If you’re looking to see what your options are for student financial aid to attend college, chances are you’ve heard of the FAFSA and the CSS profile. While the FAFSA application will determine what kind of federal aid you qualify for in terms of scholarships, grants, loans, and work study opportunities, the CSS profile is the application you fill out to qualify for non-federal financial assistance. If you’re applying to schools where this form is required and your parents are divorced, there are some extra steps that you may need to take in order to properly fill out and submit your CSS profile.
If you have questions about this process, you’ve come to the right place because in this blog post we’re going to discuss:
- Brief overview of the CSS profile
- How to complete the CSS profile with divorced parents, including non-custodial parents
- Important questions regarding divorce and your CSS profile
Overview: What is the CSS Profile?
A quick refresher on what the CSS profile means to you
The CSS profile is the application you will fill out to see how much non-federal financial aid you qualify for. However, not all schools require that you fill out this application--but there are many that do. It’s best to check with the College Board to see if your school is on the list that requires the CSS profile. If it does, you’ll need to complete the application which will ask questions about your family’s taxable income, bank accounts, and other financial assets in order to get a better picture of how much their expected contribution is. Although similar to the FAFSA, the CSS profile will also ask more detailed questions regarding this information, and will allow you to point out any circumstances that might not otherwise be included in your family’s tax and assets information.
You’ll want to complete the CSS profile as soon as you can beginning on October 1st for the following academic year. There is a $25 fee to complete the form and send your information to one school, so if you have other schools you’re applying to that require it, you’ll need to pay an additional $16 fee for each school (waivers of fees are available for those who qualify). After your application is submitted, your schools will share with you the non-federal financial aid package they can offer in terms of grants, scholarships, and loans.
The CSS Profile and Divorced Parents
The CSS profile has specific requirements for divorced parents
If you’re filling out a CSS profile and your parents are divorced, there are a few things you should know. First you’ll need to determine who your custodial parent is--which is typically the parent you spend 183 days per year or more with. There are a couple of scenarios regarding households and the information the CSS profile might require:
- Information of custodial and non-custodial parent. Some schools require the financial information (taxes, W2s, banking accounts, assets) of both the custodial and the non-custodial parent. This means that both parents will need to set up an account with the CSS profile so that they can enter their information and sign the application.
- Remarriage and step parents. If one or both of your parents have divorced and remarried, you may be required to include the information of up to four people--both your biological parents and two step parents.
- Living with partners. You are not required to include the information of your custodial parents’ partner if they are living together.
- Separation. If parents are separated, they are treated as though they are divorced and you may need to include the information from both your custodial and non-custodial parents on the CSS profile.
As you can see, there are a couple of scenarios that can play out and may have an impact on the amount of non-federal student financial aid you qualify for.
CSS Profile and Non-Custodial Parents
How to correctly complete the CSS profile with non-custodial parents
As we discussed, there are a variety of family scenarios that can play out in regards to divorce and the CSS profile, which can have an impact on how you complete your application--and may determine how much financial assistance you qualify for. When it comes to non-custodial parents and applying for the CSS profile, make sure to double check with your school if they do or do not require them to include their information. This can vary from school to school, so double check the College Board’s list of CSS profile schools. If your school requires the non-custodial parent to include their information in the CSS profile, there are certain situations where you can receive a waiver for this, including:
- Documented abuse situations that involve the non-custodial parent
- Legal orders that limit contact with the non-custodial parent
- There has been no contact or support from the non-custodial parent
If any of these non-custodial parent situations apply to you, you’ll need to contact the institution who will be receiving your CSS profile directly, and they may ask for documents for verification. However be aware that you will not be able obtain a waiver for the information of your non-custodial parent if they refuse to complete the CSS profile and provide their financial information, or the divorce decree states that they are not responsible for the student’s educational support. Keep in mind though, each school will determine whether or not a waiver will be granted on a case by case situation.
Additional Questions Regarding Divorce and the CSS Profile
What if the divorce occurs during the CSS profile filing period?
Since you will be using income tax forms from the previous tax year, what happens if your parents filed jointly in the past, but then divorced in the time after while you are filling out your CSS profile? If this happens, you’ll need to check whether your school requires the information of both the custodial and non-custodial parents, because you need to accurately reflect your situation on the day of filing the CSS profile.
If they require just the custodial parent’s information, you will have to review the joint tax returns and find the amount of just the custodial parent. Should your school want the information of the non-custodial parent as well, you can use the joint taxable income from that year.
Should child support and alimony be included in the CSS profile?
Yes, you should include child support and alimony amounts when you are filling out the CSS profile. Child support is considered nontaxable income and will be reported on the CSS profile as such. If there are alimony payments to consider, be aware that previously it was reported as income, and will be reflected on the tax return as such. But after December 2018, alimony payments are no longer seen as taxable income on your returns. So now both alimony and child support are considered nontaxable and should be included in the CSS profile under untaxed income.
What if there is a 529 plan and then a divorce?
A 529 plan is a savings plan that a parent may open in order to save for future educational costs. As the money is put into the account it is not taxed, and is invested and can be used for qualified educational costs such as tuition, books, housing, etc. If parents have such a plan and then get divorced, the custodial parent will need to report this asset on the CSS profile as untaxed income. If the 529 plan is in the name of the non-custodial parent, whether or not they report it as untaxed income will depend upon the school. Remember, some schools do not require the information of the non-custodial parent in order to complete the CSS profile, while others do.
If you’re looking to get the most financial assistance you can and your parents are divorced or separated, you may want to consider applying to schools that only require the FAFSA--as only the income and financial information of the custodial parent is considered. If there are schools you’d like to go to that do require the CSS profile, perhaps look into those that don’t require the information of the non-custodial parent? That way, you can maximize the amount of needs-based aid you qualify for!
Image courtesy of Study Breaks Magazine.