DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Becky Snell thought she was doing the right thing. She and her husband were saving so their two sons could go to college.

“We started saving when the boys were infants to amass money for the boys to go to college,” Snell said. “And working the plan like it was retirement. We had a different fund for the boys that was for college.”

Snell didn’t count on two things, though: Rising college costs and, in 2008, her husband’s sudden death

She would need colleges to supply some financial aid. But the fact she’s a widow almost kept her sons out of college.

Colleges will not offer financial aid if a married couple has more than $48,000 set-aside in a college fund.

But a single person won’t get financial aid if they have more than just $16,000 saved for college.

“That was kind of a shock,” Snell said.

“So they punish, they absolutely punish — the financial aid system — absolutely punishes single parents,” said Kevin Campbell of College Planning Authority in Fort Worth.

A college planner, Campbell says parents with money in college savings plans need to diversify. The idea is to move the money into accounts not counted as ‘college savings.’ That way it doesn’t count against receiving financial aid.

Campbell says it’s not cheating, it’s just working with the rules they’re given.

“The college process is unbelievably complicated these days and its getting more and more complicated every day,” Campbell said.

Campbell helped Snell negotiate around the limitations. But she’s telling other parents: “Start early. Get the information.”

The the College Planning Authority’s college planning quiz here.

More From CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

Drip Pan: CBS Local App
Drip Pan: Weather App

Watch & Listen LIVE