The Help Desk

Your tough questions. MONEY's smart answers.
Presented by

Whose income will go on my grandson's financial aid application?

January 30, 2012: 5:05 AM ET

My husband and I have been the legal guardians of our grandson since he was a young boy. He is currently in the 11th grade and making plans for college. When he graduates from high school we will no longer be his guardians, legally. His father is unemployed, and his mother works in a minimum wage job. He will not reside with either of his parents. Will he have to put our income or any income his mother makes on his applications for financial aid? – Name withheld

Regarding your income, grandparent cash flow won't be included on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) unless they've legally adopted the student, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid websites finaid.org and fastweb.com. So you're in the clear.

As long as you and your husband are the court-ordered legal guardians of your grandson, he'll be treated as an independent student on the FAFSA, which means that there's no parental income or asset information included. "However, any financial support the parents or guardians provide to the student are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed income to the student," Kantrowitz says.

If the legal guardianship wasn't determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the student's state of legal residence, you should contact each college's financial aid administrator and ask for a dependency override. "Explain the reasons why the student was placed in a legal guardianship, and discuss the contact he's had with his parents and any support he's received from them," Kantrowitz says. "Sometimes the reasons behind the guardianship are enough for the colleges to change the student's status to independent." It may help to provide a copy of letters from social workers, clergy, guidance counselors, and others who are familiar with the situation. Once each college makes its decision, there is no appealing it.

If you can't achieve a dependency override, then your grandson will be considered a dependent and a parent — typically the one providing the most support — will have to complete the FAFSA. "But given that his mother works a minimum wage job, he will probably qualify for a Pell Grant and other financial aid," Kantrowitz says.

— Kate Ashford

Got a question for the help desk? Send it to

Posted in: Family Money
Join the Conversation
Help Desk

Got a question about your money? We want to hear it! Each week we're answering your questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.

Your email or phone number won't be published; we'll use it to get in touch if we need more information about your question.
Help Desk Video
  • NEXT
    Not enough money in America's 401(k)s
    Despite the surging stock market bringing balances to record highs, the average Fidelity 401(k) account has less than $100,000 in it. That's just not enough. Play
  • NEXT
    BACK
    Explaining Obama's myRA
    President Obama unveiled a new savings plan for retirement accounts, aimed at encouraging people to start building their nest egg. But how exactly does it work? Play
  • NEXT
    BACK
    Tricks on how to save in your 20s
    Saving for your retirement in your 20s doesn't have to be a financial burden. Prioritizing your expenses is usually the first step in building a nest egg. Play
  • BACK
    Don't get fooled by Black Friday sales
    Here are some of the tricks that retailers use to make you think you're getting a deal. Keep an eye out for them while shopping this Black Friday. Play
Best Tips
Some of the nation's leading business owners, investors, and thinkers share their thoughts on rebuilding your wealth. More
These strategies can help you manage the challenges -- both emotional and financial -- of helping an aging parent from afar. More
You don't need to be fanatical to get to 780. Those in the know say these moves matter most. More
Featured Newsletters

Tips for saving and spending smarter.

Search This Column
View all entries from this: Week, Month
Help Desk
More help for your career, your investments and your budget.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.