Paying for college – having multiple children, upper middle class – FAFSA, Timing is everything and It’s Not Fair!

19 Aug

Paying for college is getting more and more difficult, especially for the upper middle class with many children!  I am all about fairness and I never understand when people and agencies fail to see the big picture and provide fairness and equity across the board – this is whether it provides me with benefit or not.

So, one issue I have is with qualifying for financial aid for the middle class / upper middle class and especially for families who have lots of children nicely spaced.  Let’s look at the timeline of how things might unfold for a typical middle/upper middle class family.

  • You fall in love and get married.
  • You attend college (and so does your spouse) – if you are lucky, although I guess this is needed as part of the story but is common to this scenario.
  • You get your entry level job and start making a starter salary, not a GREAT salary but a decent one hopefully or enough to start building the American dream of starting a family and buying a home.
  • So, you have your first child and you buy your first home.
  • You start putting money in your 401K for retirement.
  • You have your second child and you get salary increases, maybe you change jobs a few times which does nice things to your pay.
  • You may have more children – in our case, we had four kids.  You space them out, especially if you have four, who can handle four kids that are all two years apart?  So, some are 3 or 4 year apart.
  • By the time your first one is ready for college, you have built up some nice equity in your home, you have that 6 months of safety cushion the experts say you should have.  You have been thinking about your retirement also, so you may a good strong 401K or other investments.  You may even own a rental property or two, but that is your retirement plan since you are trying to be responsible, after all they don’t give out pensions anymore and health care in retirement is a huge concern.  Your income has grown nicely and you fall in the middle or upper middle income category.
  • Your first child chooses to go to school AND…. you know you have perhaps 3 more children that will follow to put through college as well and you have retirement to think about.  Many families also have someone in the family that is elderly or disabled that they are paying for as well.

You fill out the FAFSA form and look to tell FAFSA about the fact that you have 3 more kids that you have to put through college, all the funds you have now are NOT for just the ONE child… You look to tell FAFSA that you have a disabled child that you will have to support for life, you look to tell FAFSA that your rental properties are your retirement plan and that you chose to plan retirement a little different than just putting all your money into a 401K.  You want to scream at FAFSA that you did it all right, you were responsible and it isn’t your fault that your three kids aren’t triplets and all in school at the same time – you still have to put all three of them through college!  You want to scream that just because you have the savings you are supposed doesn’t mean you are supposed to “get rid of it” and put it into your kids college tuition and now not have the safety net that experts recommend.    FAFSA doesn’t care about any of that, you get nothing, nada, not now and not for the rest of your 3 kids, you get to pay 100% of your kids college costs.  Unless they go to a school that costs $80,000 per year, then they might LOAN you $10,000 and expect you to pay $70,000 per year which you know you could never do.

As an upper middle income family with only ONE child, I am completely FINE with FAFSA saying that I should pay 100% of my child’s tuition.  Yes, I can afford it!  I did, my son graduates in a year and we paid 100% (sent him to a state school that only costs $15,000-$16,000 per year so we could and still afford to send our other kids to college), however, we could could never have sent him to a more expensive school because he has 3 siblings that I have to think about.   FAFSA needs to consider how many kids a family WILL need to send to college.  I understand that not all those kids might go to college so I guess that becomes a problem, so maybe the discount can come as you apply and have already had a kid graduate so you get credit after the fact.  Once I apply for kid #3 or #4, FAFSA can ask, how many kids have you already put through college and calculate that into their EFC.  If I already paid 100% to put 3 kids through school, give me a break on number 4, please, I am not a millionaire, I just want to educate my kids.


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