Engaged students reap financial benefits
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 03:02
While students are worrying about rushing, trying to find internships or jobs and making time for studying, sophomore Kellie Wood is planning her wedding. Along with getting married comes financial concerns, but some students find this financial insecurity to be a benefit.
Wood says she plans on marrying freshman Will Ransom this summer and not for legal status. The couple has been together for two-and-a-half years and although they are young, she says they are fully committed to this decision.
“We talked about it for a long time, and we were both on board from the beginning,” Wood says.
The University of California at Berkeley has seen a recent rise in married students, according to a study conducted by The Bay Citizen, an investigative news center. Students are able to establish California residency much faster when married and legally independent from their parents. In addition, the study indicates Cal students from across the nation are marrying to legally reap the benefits of in-state tuition. By identifying nine students who married close friends, acquaintances or complete strangers, the study found these students at Cal together cost the school $350,000 in out-of-state tuition .
One website, whypaytuition.com, provides students seeking lower tuition with a “student matching service.” The service matches students seeking a “marriage of convenience” in which students can reap the financial benefit of filing as an independent in order to receive increased financial aid.
“You need to meet one time, get a marriage license, get married by a Justice of the Peace and then get a divorce after college is finished,” the website says.
The university’s financial department says each student’s situation is different, but when they qualify as an independent or married, they take the couples’ income into consideration instead of their parents’ when deciding how much financial aid they will receive. While many married students tend to qualify for Pell Grants, due to smaller incomes, their loan limits also increase.
Jean-Philippe Laurenceau, professor of psychology, is a relationship scientist who conducts research in this area. He has experience as a marital therapist, as a relationship therapist and as a premarital counselor. While marrying to gain residency and independent status is legal, Laurenceau says he disapproves of the practice.
“They’re using marriage as a tool,” Laurenceau says. “I’m not in support of that.”
Laruenceau says these marriages for status are not truly marriages by definition. Marriage encompasses finding a partner who you feel compatible with, he says. Couples marry because they have shared values and goals — they develop a supportive and trusting relationship in which each can grow as individuals to be better people, he says.
Legally, these marriages are valid, but because they are just tools for students to meet their residency or financial goals, he says he would not find them real in a psychological sense.
Wood and Ransom are Delaware residents paying in-state tuition, but she says they still have financial concerns. Wood’s parents currently support her financially, but they will stop paying for her education once she weds, she says forcing Wood to completely support herself.
Worried about a decrease in her financial aid, Wood says she went to Student Financial Services and spoke with an adviser. She learned that next year she would file as an independent on her FAFSA and will not be considered a dependent because of her marriage to Ransom. Wood’s financial aid package will be calculated based on her income as a waitress instead of her parents’ salaries.
Wood and Ransom speak about finances regularly, she says, and they have consciously worked on managing their money since the engagement. The couple has years of school ahead of them to finance, making money management a top priority, Wood says.
The couple is planning ahead by putting excess earning into their saving account, Wood says. By saving money, she says the couple will pay off loans, rent and bills.
“Once we got engaged, we started planning a lot more,” Wood says. “We got a join bank account. We consider each other’s money our money too, and we trust each other to not spend money on silly things.”
Senior Alayna Connell is also engaged to be married this summer. Unlike Wood and Ransom, Connell and her fiance will wed after she graduates. Connell says she and her fiance, Matthew Ford, who does not go the university, dated with the intention of marriage. They are waiting to marry until Connell is finished with school and is generating an income, she says.
“Matt has a full-time job and is financially stable at this point,” Connell says. “I’m waiting until I get a contract signed so that I can have an income coming in too.”
Connell says the couple could not live off Ford’s income alone, Connell says. She says they plan on pooling their incomes together and do not anticipate being in financial struggle because neither of them have student loans to pay off.
Being an in-state student, living at home and working throughout college has helped prepare Connell financially for this next chapter in her life, she says.
“Matt and I are both very similar with how we handle our money,” Connell says. “We’re not trying to live above our means.”
The couple is currently taking marriage counseling classes through their church to help prepare them for married life. Connell says discussing important issues such as finances with a third party before the marriage will help them avoid major conflict in the future.