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What if you get married but not in the tax year required for FAFSA®?


    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) uses the information on your tax return from two years earlier when calculating your income and Expected Family Contribution (EFC). For example, the 2023-24 FAFSA® asks for income information from your 2021 tax return. (Of note, the EFC is transitioning to the Student Aid Index, or SAI, beginning with the 2024-25 FAFSA®. For now, students and their families should still familiarize themselves with EFC.)

    If you’re currently married, when you fill out the application, you’ll want to reflect that in your answer.

    Your marital status can affect your income as reported on the FAFSA®, and the FAFSA® needs this information to determine your eligibility accurately.

    Additionally, if your marital status is “married,” information about your spouse's income and assets is required on the application, even if it’s not reflected on your tax returns.

    Here’s where things can get confusing — the tax year reflected on your FAFSA® may not reflect your current marital status.

    If you recently got married (or divorced), there are some key things to keep in mind.

    FAFSA® eligibility for married students

    First, let’s cover the basics: Married students are eligible for financial aid through FAFSA®. However, it’s important to note that your marital status can impact how much aid you receive. One of the most significant impacts that being married can have is you’ll not be considered a dependent student.

    Dependent students

    When you’re a dependent student, you include information about your parents on your FAFSA®. The amount of aid you receive depends partly on their financial situation and how much the Department of Education believes they can contribute to your education.

    Independent students

    When you get married, immediately you become an independent student, and you don’t include your parents’ information on your FAFSA®, with a few exceptions.  If you’re a law school or health professional student, you may still need to fill out your parents’ information, even if you’d otherwise qualify as an independent student. However, you must include your spouse’s information on your FAFSA® as well.

    This can work out in your favor if you’re a younger married couple with few assets. However, if you have assets together and your combined income is high, there’s a chance you’ll get less aid in this scenario. It really depends on your individual situation.

    Common FAQs about the FAFSA® and marital status

    Now that you have an understanding of how your marital status impacts your FAFSA®, let’s cover common questions on this topic, including if you get married but not in the tax year required by FAFSA®.

    Do I have to tell FAFSA® I got married?

    The FAFSA® asks for your marital status as of the day you’re filling the form out. Each year, a portion of FAFSA® applicants are selected for verification. This process aims to confirm that the information submitted is correct and accurately represents your financial situation.

    Does FAFSA® check if you’re married?

    The verification process is how FAFSA® may check if you’re married. While students are typically randomly selected for verification, there may be times when FAFSA® selects students after reviewing the application if additional questions come up or more information is needed. That’s why it’s best to answer the questions accurately the first time. By doing that, hopefully you can avoid lengthening the processing time if you're selected for verification.

    How does being married affect FAFSA®?

    When you get married, the FAFSA® uses both your financial information and your spouse's financial information to determine your eligibility for financial aid. That information includes income and shared assets.

    These combined assets will help determine your financial aid eligibility and award amount. Sometimes, this will result in more financial aid than a dependent student would receive. In other scenarios, it could result in less aid.

    It’s best to talk to a financial advisor or your school’s financial aid office to determine how your marital status may affect your aid.

    Can I change my FAFSA® if I get married?

    If the FAFSA® year hasn’t closed, you can speak to the financial aid office at your school about updating your marital status. They may require your marriage certificate as proof of the change. A change in dependency status must be updated on the FAFSA® unless the dependency status change is due to a change in marital status. It really comes down to your school as to whether or not it’s required to update your dependency status based on the change to your marital status. This usually comes down to if “the update is necessary to address an inequity or to reflect more accurately the applicant’s ability to pay.”

    You likely can’t update your status if you’re halfway through the school year, too. However, you can update it when filling out the FAFSA® for the next school year.

    What if I get married after filing the FAFSA®?

    If the FAFSA® is still open for the school year, you can update the information submitted on the application. You’ll need to go back and edit the financial section with your spouse's financial information.

    If you’ve filed your FAFSA® and the current year is closed or more than halfway through, it’s likely you can’t update the information. It’s best to reach out to the financial aid office at your school to see if there are steps you need to take or ways to change the information.

    What if I get married but not in the tax year required for FAFSA®?

    Since the FAFSA® application asks for financial information in addition to your tax returns, you’ll still have the opportunity to input your updated income and assets. The application will ask you if you’re married and offer an opportunity for you to input your spouse's assets and income information.

    This will help the FAFSA® determine whether your financial situation differs from your submitted tax year. They’ll use all the information provided to determine your eligibility.

    Final thoughts

    Navigating the financial aid process after getting married can be confusing. If you have questions, it’s best to contact your school's financial aid office. They’ll help you navigate how best to handle this major life change and help make sure that you’re still eligible for the financial aid you deserve.