Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the first step to receiving any kind of federal financial aid for college. With it, the Department of Education determines what your financial need is and, together with your school, decides how much financial aid you’ll be awarded.
If you’re a dependent student as defined by the federal government, you enter your parents’ information as well. If you’re married, however, do you need to enter your spouse’s income as part of the information?
How Income Impacts Your Financial Aid
The federal government begins from the standpoint that it’s your job—and that of your parents if you’re a dependent student—to be the primary source of funds for your education. The FAFSA requires detailed financial information so it can determine how much actual financial need you have.
While there is no set-in-stone cutoff, the FAFSA’s aid formula calculates what’s called an Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. While it’s not a mandatory amount, it’s what the federal government, after looking at your finances, thinks you should be able to contribute to school. It uses that as a basis to decide, based upon what colleges you listed, how much financial aid you are eligible for. The more income your household shows, the less financial aid you might be able to receive.
How to Fill Out Question No. 37 About Spouse's Income on the FAFSA
Question 37 on the FAFSA asks for your spouse’s income on your last tax return. You might be tempted not to include your spouse’s income, or you might no longer be living with your spouse. If, however, you were living with them at the time you filed taxes, you need to include their income. Just like a dependent student has to include parental income, you’ll need to include your spouse’s income on your FAFSA application because it will be used to determine your financial need.
On IRS Form 1040, you subtract line 46 from line 56 and enter that result as your answer for Question 37. For IRS Form 1040A, subtract line 36 from line 28, and on IRS Form 1040EZ, simply use the amount in line 10.
If you’re currently separated from your spouse, you can enter that status on the FAFSA; just be aware you could be asked for documentation to prove you and your spouse are truly living in separate places. You might be required to provide proof that one of you has filed for divorce or provide separate utility bills or lease agreements.
If you’re married, don’t be tempted to leave off your spouse’s income; you could find yourself not only denied future financial aid, but you could be required to pay back any additional aid you’ve already received.