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Financial Q&A: How financial-aid picture changes by waiting to go to college

Submit your questions to Steve Dinnen at money@csmonitor.com

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Q: Based on my experience, I'm of the opinion that very few 18-year-olds are ready to take full advantage of college. As such, I've encouraged my children to do other things for a few years, including working to save some money. My son is now 22 and agrees that college at 18 wouldn't have been very productive for him. But he is now thinking about enrolling. I'm wondering how the financial-aid picture changes for a 22-year-old. How is it different from a high school senior? Is his eligibility still based on his parent's income and finances, and does it matter that he's no longer living at home? What should I be doing to prepare myself financially for sending my 18-year-old daughter when she's 21?

J.G., Candia, N.H.

A: While many parents may think that their children have finally reached adulthood and are on their own by age 21, that's not so with the federal government when it comes to higher education.

In its eyes, your children are in most cases "dependent" until the age of 24 for the purposes of financial-aid assistance, unless they're married, or have dependents for whom they provide more than 50 percent of their financial support, or attend a graduate program, says James Harris, a financial-aid expert and director with Nelnet Campus Solutions, an education planning and finance company in Lincoln, Neb.

So, even if your son has been paying his own living expenses, he'll still need your information to apply for financial aid.

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