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FAFSA Confusion about Housing & Other Allowances

Answers to these questions can be found at I Have FAFSA Answers! and Update About Allowances and FAFSA.

I hate it when information conflicts.  With the whole MyCAA mess, lots of military spouses are suddenly scrambling to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.)  There is a line on the form that asks for untaxed income, and says, "Housing, food, and other living allowances paid to military, clergy, and others. Housing, food, and other living allowances paid to members of the military, clergy, and others (including cash payments and cash value of benefits). Do not include the value of on-base military housing or the value of a basic military allowance for housing."

Well, that is sort of confusing.  Many readers were entering their housing allowance because it says, "housing allowance," which totally makes sense.  It also seems to ask for BAS (food allowance), plus who knows what else.   However, entering your housing allowance, especially if you live in an expensive area (like me!) means that there is nearly no chance that you will get financial aid.  Since it was confusing, I decided to look further.

A quick Swagbucks search brought up the University of Maryland's directions for this line.  "Great," I thought, "University of Maryland knows all about the military."  Their form, the UMUC Military/Civilian Untaxed Income Worksheet, specifically tells students to include housing allowances.  It also gives this remarkably unhelpful chart that seems to be a holdover from the days when BAH was broken into two parts, the basic and the variable.  It also wants you to include OHA, COLA, TLA, and basically anything that the military pays.  I can't imagine any situation in which a military member is getting financial assistance if they are including all that stuff.

Discouraged, I kept looking and found a very similar form from the Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington.

In a fit of frustration, I went back to the original FAFSA form online.  On the right, there is a little informational square that pops up when you check a box.  When I checked the box for Housing, Food, and Other Living Allowances, here's what pops up:

Enter the total cash value of housing, food, and any other living allowances you received in 2009. These allowances are often paid to military, clergy and others.

Do not include rent subsidies for low-income housing, the value of on-base military housing or the value of a basic military allowance for housing.

Round to the nearest dollar and do not include commas or decimal points.

Okay, still not helpful.  But if you click the part that says More>>> at the bottom, you get a new window that says this:

Enter the total amount of any other untaxed income or benefits that your parents received in 2009, such as workers compensation, Black Lung Benefits, untaxed portions of Railroad Retirement Benefits, disability, etc.

Do not include student aid, earned income credit, child tax credit, welfare payments, untaxed Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Workforce Investment Act educational benefits, on-base military housing or military housing allowance, combat pay, benefits from flexible spending arrangements (for example: cafeteria plans), foreign income exclusion or credit for federal tax on special fuels.

Round to the nearest dollar and do not include commas or decimal points.

First, I had to get past the "parents" part.  After clicking around, it looks like that is just a copied page from elsewhere that hasn't been changed to reflect the fact that it is in the student section.  Once I moved past that, it seems to pretty clearly state that you do not enter housing allowances.

So, which is it?  It is too late tonight to make phone calls (thanks to an overflowing toilet), but I am getting on the phone tomorrow.  I'd love to hear if you know more than I do!

Answers to these questions can be found at I Have FAFSA Answers! and Update About Allowances and FAFSA.

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