The federal Pell Grant program provides need-based grants to help students pay for their college educations. Students can use the grants for undergraduate studies and for certain postbaccalaureate courses of study. The program serves to help qualified students pursue a college education, providing funds that they don't have to pay back. Whether or not savings accounts affect the eligibility for a Pell Grant depends on several factors.
If you decide to seek funding from the Pell Grant program, you must fill out an application form from the Department of Education, the administrator of the program. The form used for the applications is called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Department of Education analyzes the applications to determine which students qualify for the grant, using a formula that was developed in Congress. The Pell Grant serves to fund only part of college tuition in most cases. The maximum award during the 2011-12 academic year was $5,550. In 2009-10, the average cost of tuition, room and board was $12,804 at public colleges and $32,184 at private colleges.
Expected Family Contribution
Ultimately, the application for the Pell Grant identifies a measurement called the expected family contribution, which is sometimes called the EFC. The EFC is a calculation based on a family's financial profile that determines how much the family can afford to contribute each year to pay for college. The EFC is a key component in determining if you qualify for a Pell Grant and if you receive a full reward or a partial one. Other factors include the tuition and fees at the college where you will apply the grant, whether you are a full-time or part-time student and whether you intend to attend the school for the full academic year.
Assets are a major factor in the calculation of your family's EFC. In the case where a student is a dependent, the student's assets, including a savings account, are not considered in the application. However, the parents' assets, including any savings accounts, are an integral part of the calculations. If the student is independent of his parents, his savings accounts and other assets are used to determine eligibility -- and his parents' assets are not considered. If the student is independent and married, both his and his spouse's assets, including savings accounts, are typically considered, but not his parents' assets.
Assets are only part of the EFC calculation. Also considered are income, the size of the student's family and the number of children in the family attending college. Unlike assets, students' incomes are counted in determining eligibility whether they remain dependents of their parents or not. The Department of Education uses the FAFSA application to calculate a percentage of net income, which subtracts allowances for basic living expenses and taxes, and a percentage of net assets, which subtracts an asset protection allowance, based on the ages of the contributors. Those figures are added together for a final EFC sum assigned to your family.
Tom Gresham is a freelance writer and public relations specialist who has been writing professionally since 1999. His articles have appeared in "The Washington Post," "Virginia Magazine," "Vermont Magazine," "Adirondack Life" and the "Southern Arts Journal," among other publications. He graduated from the University of Virginia.