What to do if parents cannot or do not want to pay - Finaid (2023)

What can you do if your parents can't help pay for school?

This section of Finaid provides advice for students whose parents are unable or unwilling to help students pay for school. Regardless of the situation, some of the most common questions Finaid receives come from students seeking help because their parents are unable to contribute to their education.

Finaid supports changes in federal legislation that would shift the burden to students. Unfortunately, current federal law doesn't provide many options for students who want to go to college but whose parents refuse to help.

Federal Government Policies on Parental Responsibility

The federal government and schools primarily consider it the family's responsibility to pay for school. They provide financial assistance only when the family cannot afford it. If a family just doesn't want to pay, it makes no difference. Parents have a greater responsibility to their children than the government or schools.

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The US Department of Education has published guidance for financial aid administrators which indicates that neither a parent's refusal to contribute to a student's education nor a parent's unwillingness to provide information regarding the financial aid application or verification are grounds for void dependency status. This is true even if the parent does not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes or the student demonstrates complete self-sufficiency.

In divorce cases, the custodial parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA form. If the custodial parent remarries, the finances of the custodial parent's spouse (the stepparent) must be included. This is clearly stated in Section 475(f)3 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-329), the federal legislation that authorizes most federal student aid programs.

All public and private universities follow the law not only in granting federal and state student aid, but also in granting aid from the school itself. In fact, many colleges go further and consider not only the custodial parent's and stepparent's income and assets, but also the noncustodial parent's income and assets.

Prenuptial agreements are ignored in the student help need analysis. A prenuptial agreement is an agreement between a husband and wife and as such cannot be binding on any third party such as the government or university. Furthermore, a prenuptial agreement cannot waive the obligation to help pay for the children's education, as even a natural father cannot waive the rights of the children. If the prenuptial included a clause waiving the obligation to help pay for the children's education, most courts would find that clause null and void.

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Tips for students and parents

Fortunately, there are ways parents can help with their child's education without having to contribute financially. By providing some clarity for students and parents, the two of you can end up on the same page when it comes to getting help paying for school from other sources.
Your first goal should be to encourage your parents to fill out financial aid forms. Even if they don't want to help you pay for college, by refusing to fill out the forms they are preventing you from getting help yourself (eg government grants and student loans). Once you've convinced them to fill out the forms, you can try to convince them to pay for college.

What to do if your parents refuse to fill out financial aid forms.
Remind your parents that submitting the forms does not oblige them to provide support, but if they refuse to submit the FAFSA, you will not be eligible for any need-based assistance on your own. College financial aid administrators may offer dependent students an unsubsidized Stafford loan without requiring the parent to submit a FAFSA, as long as the financial aid administrator verifies that the parent has terminated the financial aid and will not submit the FAFSA. The unsubsidized Stafford loan is not based on financial need and it is a loan, but at least it is something that helps you pay for school.

But if you can convince your parents to file the FAFSA, you may qualify for needs-based help like the subsidized Stafford Loan and Pell Grant, as well as institutional help. By not filling out the FAFSA, they prevent you from receiving any of these aids.

If your parents are concerned about privacy, remind them that the confidentiality of student records, including financial aid requests, is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In particular, schools will not disclose information submitted by parents to the student (or the parent's former spouse).

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Talk to your college financial aid administrator. Sometimes they can advocate for parents and convince them to fill out the FAFSA. It sometimes helps to have a third party talk to your parents if the atmosphere between you and your parents is emotionally charged.

Some students submitted the forms forging their parent's signature. This is not advisable as the penalties for doing so are quite severe, and if you don't have a copy of your parents' income tax return, you will likely get caught when the numbers don't match.

What to do if your parents are involved in a messy divorce.
Talk to each parent separately. If they have questions about the privacy of financial information on financial aid applications, ask them to speak with their school's financial aid administrator. Financial aid administrators are very careful to protect student and parent privacy and will not allow one parent to view information submitted by the other. If the school receives a court order requiring them to release the information, they will first notify the affected parent and do nothing until the parent has had time to challenge the order in court. Education records, including financial aid applications and supporting documentation, are protected by very strict federal privacy laws, such as FERPA.

What to do if your parents refuse to pay.
Some students may meet criteria for independent status. Otherwise, you are considered dependent on your parents and your income and resources will determine your eligibility for assistance. If your parents refuse to pay, you will have to make up the difference. The school and the government will not help. To know more:Federal financial aid and independent student FAFSA

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Talk to your parents and present all your finances in front of them. Show them how much money you have and can make by showing them that you are doing everything you can to cover costs. Show them how much it will cost and how big the gap is. Make it clear to them that if they don't help fill that void, you won't be able to finish your studies no matter how hard you try.

What to do if your stepfather refuses to fill out forms or provide support.
Remind them that the federal government counts their income and assets regardless of their refusal. If they point to a prenuptial agreement, let them know that that agreement is between them and their spouse. You are not a party to this contract, nor is the government, so it is not binding on you. Encourage them to complete the FAFSA as this makes you eligible for need-based aid even if they don't help with college costs.
What to do if your parents don't want to borrow to pay for your education.
Make an agreement with your parents where you agree to take responsibility for the PLUS loan payments after you graduate and get a job. You'll graduate heavily in debt and have to struggle, but at least you'll be able to graduate.

Unsubsidized Stafford Loans Without Parent InformationSection 479A(a) of the Higher Education Act 1965, as modified by section 472(a)(4) of the Higher Education Opportunities Act 2008, allows dependent students to obtain an unsubsidized Stafford loan without application information Free for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if the college financial aid administrator "verifies that the parent or parents of such student have terminated financial support for such student and refuse to submit such form." However, most students would get more financial aid if their parents completed the FAFSA or if the student received a dependency waiver.


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