FAFSA season and the financial aid reality check
I not only have to pay taxes but I have to do them earlier this year?
It’s called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA – find it at fafsa.ed.gov) and like death and taxes completing the online form is a necessity for most families. Why complete it? This is your ticket to scholarships and grants (wonderful gifts that you and your student do NOT need to repay!) It is also the ticket to those low cost student loans that aren’t paid back until 6 months after your student graduates (or leaves school). Eligibility for work-study programs is also determined by the FAFSA. If your child is a senior you are probably finishing the FAFSA now, most colleges require that the FAFSA be completed in February or March. If you are the parent of a junior, even better as you can forecast your costs for next year. See the FAFSA4caster. If you have a son, he can register with the Selective Service via the FAFSA application, saving you valuable time.
Completing the FAFSA is time-consuming but worth it. My guess is one hour of time to input data, since you will be saving each page. This estimate assumes that you have already gathered information such as your child’s Social Security Number, your own W-2 statements and those of your student, interest income and a total of your checking and savings accounts. You will need to apply for two pin numbers. One is for your student and the other for you. Be SURE that you record both pin numbers and their respective passwords; you can then sign the form electronically speeding up the process immensely. Insist that your student give you his/her pin number! Most likely YOU, the parent, will be the one who completes, submits and corrects FAFSA applications for the next four or five years. You won’t be able to do so without the student pin and password. You can re-use your pin number for each child–however, each child must have a unique pin number.
Complete your taxes AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! While you can complete the FAFSA without having the final figures from your federal taxes, the process is much simpler if you can complete the form ONCE. If you estimate information such as AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) you will need to return to the FAFSA to update the information once your taxes are filed.
Locate a paper copy of the FAFSA, if you can, often they are in the guidance office. While you can no longer submit the FAFSA via mail, the paper copy can be used as a draft copy. It also allows you to read the explanations for each question before answering. Happily, the FAFSA will tell you exactly where to locate the information on your tax form, for example, Adjusted Gross Income is on IRS Form 1040-line 37.
With all the college literature that comes to your door, you will need to have your student record the FAFSA code and the FAFSA due dates for each college. Some private colleges require an additional form called the PROFILE. This is a particularly nosy form which asks how much money you, and younger siblings, have in the bank. Do they really think that my older son would GIVE college tuition money to his brother? He’s still paying off his own educational loans! One of the benefits of the FAFSA is that it lets you know that you are rich! Within minutes, literally, of completing the FAFSA you will receive an email message telling you the exact amount that YOU can expect to pay for your child’s education. Note: this EFC (Expected Family Contribution) will be MUCH higher than you thought possible! One final tip–try to complete the final FAFSA a few days prior to your earliest deadline. We discovered, the hard way, that the web page goes down every Sunday from 5-9 PM EST for maintenance. We discovered this while trying to upload corrections.
Keep watching for Financial Aid or FAFSA workshops for parents, since most high schools provide them without charge. Please don’t worry, experienced help is available, it is just a mouse click away.