Is it too early to think about the 2014-15 FAFSA? The Dept of Ed is hard at work already trying to determine their new changes for the FAFSA that will take effect July 1, 1014. Announced last week, the two changes will be published in the Federal Register for public comment. The changes deal with dependent students only. The two changes are adding a parent's marital situation of "unmarried but both parents living together" and replacing gender-specific terms like father/stepfather and mother/stepmother with the terms 'Parent 1' and 'Parent 2'. These seem like small changes, so what's the big deal? Actually a lot.
Firstly, the 'unmarried but both parents living together'. Currently, in order to figure out a student's EFC, a dependent student must use their parent's financial information. If both of their parents are not married but they live together, then the student only has to use one parent's information. With this new choice, then a dependent student will have to use both parents' information even though they are not married. As the rule has been proposed, this does not supersede the choice of 'divorced', which will still be the same manner of compiling financial information as it is currently.
Secondly, the gender-specific term replacement. Currently, the FAFSA refers to parents as being father/stepfather and mother/stepmother, and uses the term 'spouse'. When reviewing the Higher Education Act, it actually refers more to 'parent' and 'parents' than the other terms. So, it was decided that going to 'Parent 1' and 'Parent 2' doesn't break the Higher Education Act.
For states who allow same-sex marriages, the 2014-15 FAFSA is the first time in FSA that their union is accepted. The federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, and since the FAFSA is goes through the federal government, neither does the FAFSA. But according to the FAFSA, same-sex marriages can use the choice of 'unmarried but both parents living together', and then use Parent 1 and Parent 2 for their income information.
Some of the details have to be worked out for the FAFSA on the Web (FOTW). It is believed that if a dependent student checks that their parents are 'unmarried but both parents living together', then it will essentially work similar to how the system currently treats 'married but filing separately'. It is believed that the system will instruct students on how to complete the rest of the FAFSA just like it does for the 'married but filing separately' for this year.
It is estimated that few students will actually have to deal with this. According to a letter from the Dept of Ed, 60% of FAFSA filers are independent students, so they won't have to deal with it. 20% of FAFSA filers are dependent, but their parents are married which means they have to include both incomes anyway. The vast majority of the rest of the 20% don't have unmarried parents living together. So, as of right now, the estimated impact is small. However, for the dependent students that this does affect, it will be a big change in more ways than one.