Will Your Home Equity Hurt Financial Aid Chances?

Have you given any thought to how home equity might hurt your child’s chances for financial aid?

Actually, at most state and private colleges and universities, the equity in your primary home is a non-issue. That’s because most schools only require families to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) when applying for financial aid and the FAFSA doesn’t even ask about home equity.

There are, however, roughly 260 schools, nearly all private, that are quite interested in the value of your house and how these schools treat home equity varies dramatically. The schools in this category include the nation’s most prestigious institutions.  These colleges use an additional financial aid form called the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.

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Depending on how schools treat your home equity, your chances of getting financial aid could blow up while at other institutions your money timebombodds wouldn’t be jeopardized even if you are living in an exclusive zip code.

How Your House Can Impact Financial Aid

Many schools that assess home equity for financial aid purposes do so by linking it to the family’s income. For instance, a school might assess home equity at no more than two times the family’s income. Let’s look at an example of how this would work:

  • Family’s income: $60,000
  • Home equity: $400,000

Normally, the schools that use the PROFILE formula would assess the home equity (as well as other parental assets) at 5% for financial aid purposes.

  400,000 x 5% = $20,000

In this example, the home equity value would have boosted the expected family contribution (EFC) by $20,000 (a significant hit!) if the school didn’t link the home equity to income.

By the way, if you don’t know what an EFC is, read this post:

Do You Know What Your EFC IS?

But now let’s look at what happens when the school ties the home equity assessment to no more than two times the family’s income of $60,000.

$60,000 x 2= $120,000

In this example, the school would only use $120,000 of home equity this family’s aid calculation.

120,000 x 5% = $6,000

So in this example, the parent’s EFC would rise $6,000 rather than $20,000.

How Individual Schools Treat Home Equity

If you hope to qualify for financial aid — and the more expensive the school the more likely you will – it’s important to know how individual schools treat home equity. To help you with this effort, I am sharing with you the following spreadsheet of the home-equity policies of 110 schools:

Home Equity Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet comes courtesy of Paula Bishop, a friend of mine, who is a CPA in Bellevue, WA, and a financial aid expert. She contacted the schools about their home equity policies this summer, but keep in mind that schools can change how they assess home equity at any time so don’t just depend on this list.

Schools that Ignore Home Equity

As you’ll see from Paula’s list, some PROFILE schools don’t consider home equity at all, which is obviously the best scenario. Institutions in this smallest category include:

  • Bard College
  • Bucknell University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • DePauw University
  • Hamilton College
  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Santa Clara University
  • University of Virginia
  • Washington University, St. Louis
  • Whitman College

Schools That Hit Home Equity Hard

On the other extreme, some schools use the full weight of parents’ home equity to help determine financial need, which can seriously hurt aid changes.  Here are some examples:

  • American University
  • Bentley College
  • Boston College
  • Elon University
  • Emory University
  • Holy Cross College
  • Ithaca College
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • MIT
  • Northeastern University
  • Providence College
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Roger Williams University
  • Stonehill College
  • Union College
  • University of Michigan
  • Williams College

Some schools that take this draconian approach will consider parent appeals, but how many families even know this is a possibility? In fact, parents typically won’t even know why their aid packages seems so paltry.

It’s highly unlikely that parents are going to trace a poor award back to their home equity. But now everyone reading this knows this is a possibility and can appeal.

Schools That Limit Home Equity Hit

Other institutions use a home-equity cap that’s tied to the family income so it’s less likely that someone who is house rich, but cash poor will be penalized. The home-equity caps below range from 1% to 4%, which is a huge span.

Here are a few schools in this category:

  • Amherst College (1.2x)
  • Brown University (3x)
  • Grinnell College (1.5x)
  • Haverford College (1.2x)
  • Johns Hopkins University (3x)
  • Lewis and Clark College (2x)
  • Kenyon College (4x)
  • Macalester College (2x)
  • Middlebury College (1.2x)
  • Muhlenberg College (1x)
  • Oberlin College (1.2x)
  • Reed College (2x)
  • Rice University (2.5x)
  • Stanford University (1.2x)
  • University of Chicago (2x)
  • University of Southern California (2x)
  • Vanderbilt University (2.5x)
  • Vassar College (1.5x)
  • Wake Forest University (2x)

More Advice…

Paula  Bishop recommends emailing schools to ask how they treat home equity so you have a record of their responses later on if you end up appealing a financial aid award.

Not all schools will be forthcoming with this information. When Paula, for instance, asked New York University (a school with notoriously poor financial aid) about how it treats home equity, it declined to say.

Paula asks that if you contact any schools about their home equity policies to share the info on this site so she can add the information to her list. I’d love love to build on this home equity list to make it an even better resource!

By the way, how schools treat home equity can also depend on how desirable an applicant is.

One more thing….

If you use the EFC calculator on the College Board’s website (and I highly recommend you do!), you should know that the calculator for the institutional aid methodology uses 100% of your home equity against you.

If you want to find out what an EFC calculator is and why you should use one, read this:

How To Determine Your EFC

Learn More About Cutting College Costs:

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17 Responses to Will Your Home Equity Hurt Financial Aid Chances?

  1. Katherine Schultz April 20, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    I think your newsletter is amazing. How do I consider hiring you for some facet of this process. We have a college counselor and have been using a company to file our FAFSA’s but they’re not very good in complicated scenarios. We have 2 freshmen in college, 1 entering this year, and 3 more to go. Our next one is a Sophomore. We just visited Stanford, and he’d like to stay in California, close to the ocean. UC Santa Barbara is his safety school. Stanford would be amazing, but I’m not sure how much it would cost us.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 20, 2016 at 9:37 am #

      Hi Katherine,

      I am so glad you like my newsletter! I do not have private consulting clients, but I do offer an online class – The College Cost Lab – that shares many ways to cut the cost of college. In my next class, I am also offering a detailed guide on how to create a great college list. People in my class also get to ask me questions during the entire eight weeks of the self-paced course.

      My next class will start up in June. I hope you decide to enroll. Here is the link to learn more: http://www.thecollegesolution.com/college-cost-lab-sales-page

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. John February 10, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    I have 2 rental house question for CSS profile. Does “real estate equity exclude mortgage” means house fair market value minus mortgage? And can I use county’s access net market value for property tax as house fair market value?

    Thank you!

  3. fut coins us November 2, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    It’s amazing in favor of me to have a web page, which is beneficial in favor of my
    experience. thanks admin

  4. Maria April 28, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

    Hi,
    I was wondering whether it matters for financial aid calculations, what part of your mortgage is paid of.
    Thank you.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 29, 2015 at 3:39 am #

      Hi Maria,

      What counts is your home equity. You subtract what you owe (mortgage, second mortgage, home equity line balance)from the value of your home and that’s your home equity.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  5. Lisa September 11, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    I’m interested to see if anyone knows what source a private college uses when assessing the market value of a property. Our yearly county property tax assessment lists both the assessed value and the market value of our home. I was flabbergasted when I plugged our address into the zillow.com website and saw that our home’s value was listed at nearly $1million more than the market value listed on our county tax assessment. How is this possible and how could one explain this to an admissions officer?

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy September 13, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

      Hi Lisa,

      I’d suggest using the market value or the assessed value of your house. Don’t use Zillow if the value is higher. There is no one right source to get this figure. You could also ask schools what they would like.

      Lynn O.

      • Martha August 20, 2016 at 9:12 am #

        They use Zillow . Boston College do not care about the income being low or any other circumstances. They do 6 percent of every property based on Zillow

    • Martha August 20, 2016 at 9:08 am #

      Boston collage used Zillow even though I explained that one rental was a trailer home they used 250,000 a quarter of a million

  6. Carol Worthen August 13, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    Although I know it is brutal, I think it really is only fair if they take home equity into consideration. Some families do not own their home, and they should receive more financial aid than a student whose family does own a home, all other things being equal. I would assume an appeal might help someone in a situation where they live in an area with a housing slump, and even if a family would chose to sell or refinance their home to help pay for college, they might not be able to. Let’s face it- many of us own homes, cars, have a 401K, etc. Many great schools offer merit money. Public universities are always an option as well.

  7. lindenmcneilly August 13, 2014 at 1:55 am #

    Lynn, how is home equity calculated?

  8. Erog August 11, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    This home equity issue strikes a chord with me. We purchased a modest home for $250,000 over 17 years ago. It is currently worth between $600,000-$700,00. We cannot afford to carry more debt and if we sell the house, we would most likely have to leave our school district because there is nowhere to trade down from what we currently have. I have a student heading to college in 3 years and two younger children. I have done estimates for my EFC. There is a question about tuition for younger students in the house. Is there any allowance for the fact that my home equity permits my children to stay in school? Would I be better off selling the house and putting them in private school? I feel like I am painted into a corner.

  9. Beth Marsh August 11, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    Hello Lynn,

    This exact topic has been on my mind since I will be completing the CSS profile in October for a handful of colleges and universities and I am very anxious about the effect our home equity will have on my daughter’s financial aid package.

    What is the fair and acceptable way to calculating home equity? Is the home value listed on the property tax bill an option for determining equity?

    Thank you for your input.

  10. Jeremy August 11, 2014 at 12:35 am #

    So they’ll force you to take on a equity loan or a second mortgage if you happen to live in a rich zip code (regardless of whether you actually are)? That’s brutal…!

    • Martha August 20, 2016 at 9:10 am #

      The universities like Boston College do not care about anything. They use Zillow

  11. Nuri Delen August 8, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    Probably a faster way to find out how a university takes home equity into account when calculating expected family contribution is to just run Net Price Calculator at collegeboard.com twice. Once with your current Home Equity and once without any. Subtract the two numbers.

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