How Much Money Should a Married Couple Make to Qualify for a Federal Pell Grant?

The bliss of tying the knot should enhance life -- but can also complicate a few things. Like when it generates new questions about applying and qualifying for federal student financial aid that frankly you never had to wonder about before. So how does your new status as a married couple change your eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant? Since the Pell grant is based on financial need, your spouse's income can suddenly be a factor. Fortunately, your financial need is based on family size and filing status, which also changed when you said: "I do."

Expected Family Contribution

The information you provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is used to calculate your expected family contribution and is the amount you are expected to contribute toward your education. This amount is deducted directly against the maximum Pell grant amount and reduces the amount you qualify for dollar for dollar. Married couples will have this calculated using the formula for married students without dependents or the formula for married students with dependents. On top of this, married couples may be assessed using one of three simplified formulas -- meaning the EFC will be calculated based on fewer factors.

Simplified Formulas

If a married couple's combined adjusted gross income or earned income is less than $50,000 and either 1) they did not have to file an IRS Form 1040, 2) one person is a dislocated worker or 3) someone in the household qualifies for certain income-based federal programs, the couple's assets will not be considered in the calculation. A married couple with a dependent and a combined AGI less than $23,000 and meeting one of the additional criteria automatically qualifies for a zero EFC. Pell-eligible married students whose parent or guardian died in the armed forces after Sept. 11, 2011, in Iraq or Afghanistan have their EFC reduced to zero.

Married Couple with No Dependent

The EFC for a married student is calculated based on a percentage of your combined income and counted assets, divided by the number of college students in the marriage. Half of discretionary income -- the income remaining after expenses such as a living allowance and income taxes are deducted -- will be used toward the EFC. Assets are assessed by adding all the assets from the FAFSA to obtain a net worth, reducing this amount by allowances you qualify for based in part on your age, and then multiplied by 20 percent. You will be expected to contribute the final amount toward your education expenses.

Married Couple with a Dependent

Married couples with one or more dependents have their EFC calculated similarly to married couples without any dependents, only the living allowances are greater and reduce the percentage of discretionary income further.

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