NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pleading Poverty To Get Student Financial Aid

February 16, 2000

Parents who need financial assistance to send their children to college can use two different formulas to determine how much the family and the student will be expected to contribute to college costs. Their responses on the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the College Board's CSS/PROFILE are used to calculate their Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The College Board application is usually used by private schools.

Some parents reposition their assets -- in effect, pleading a certain degree of poverty -- to bring down their EFC number, say financial aid consultants. Here is how the results differ, depending on the formula used:

  • A family with an income of $25,000 and $25,000 in assets would not be expected to supplement the aid under either of the formulas.
  • If the family made $50,000 a year and held $25,000 in assets, it would be expected to contribute $3,678 under the federal formula and $3,377 under the College Board computation.
  • The expected level of support for a family making $100,00 with $50,000 in assets would be $17,722 under federal rules and $14,685 by College Board standards.
  • A $100,000 income family holding $150,000 in assets would be called upon to contribute $23,362 to college costs under the federal formula and $18,728 using College Board computations.

Experts say that how much a family ends up paying is much more dependent on income than assets.

The calculations allow a minimum amount for the family to live on, deductions for federal , state and local taxes, and other factors. But no allowance is considered for credit card debt, payments on vehicles or -- in the case of the federal formula -- excess medical or dental costs.

The best advice to parents is to start saving early -- and save a lot.

Source: Dennis Kelly, "Paying for College Is the New Math," USA Today, February 16, 2000.


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