Have a college bound kid in high school? This is for you and you don't want to miss it!
Okay let's start with the obvious. Preparing for college can take a lot of time, effort, fortitude, and wine (for the parents of course).
Ha! You're probably thinking. Tell me something I didn't already know! Right?!
Wrong! If you're like most normal, hard-working parents, you'll wait until an hour before your kids' college applications are due to think about how in the world you're actually going to pay for it! Okay maybe you wont, but your friends will.
Why? Because this stuff can be boring, complex and confusing. Plus we're busy. We're tired. And honestly, burying our head in the sand feels better than facing reality! Cr*p...there I've said it!
But with the increasing cost of college we can't afford to delay any longer! Getting financial aid is becoming more and more important and more difficult than ever. To be considered for financial aid you are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA and by waiting until the last moment most families will make common mistakes that will cost them thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars of hard earned money!
I've recorded a college planning video to help you avoid these costly mistakes and make the entire process go a lot smoother. Click HERE to watch it (and yes its free).
But if you're down to the wire, with an hour before the FAFSA application is due, then read these 8 FAFSA filing tips now:
1. Everyone Should File
Even if you think you make too much money and won't qualify for any aid, you might be surprised. Many schools will require the FAFSA to be eligible for Merit Aid, which has nothing to do with your finances. You may be entitled to scholarships, grants, or even low-interest loans with much more borrower-friendly terms, so it is definitely worth the short period of time it takes to file.
2. It Needs to Be Filed Every Year
Unfortunately qualifying one year does not guarantee the same benefits next year. Much of the information they request for FAFSA is from your tax return, so a good rule of thumb is that when October rolls around, it'll be time to refile your FAFSA. The good news is that after filing the first time, most of the information will be pre-filled, so all you have to do is make adjustments. Tip: organize your financial information and keep a file.
3. If You Are Granted Aid, Figure out What You Got
Once your FAFSA application has been reviewed, you will be given a letter showing you the aid that is available to you and this same information will be reported to the college you plan to attend. Receiving this letter does not automatically start the funding. You'll need to figure out what you actually got and only accept what you want. Tip: colleges consider loans and free money, equally as being the same. Press colleges for more scholarships and less loans!
4. File as Early as You Can
Your FAFSA can be submitted as early as October 1st, and even though the deadline may be months away, the best type of financial aid (ahem...free money) is given out on a first-come-first-served basis. So don't delay!
5. Register for an FSA ID
Before you begin working on your FAFSA forms, you will be assigned an FSA ID which will identify you throughout the process. It is important to note that each person on the application will need to obtain their own ID, so both the student and a parent will need to file for an FSS ID. Make sure to write down this ID as it will be used multiple times throughout the filing and acceptance process. This ID will also serve as your electronic signature during the filing process.
6. Edit Your FAFSA
If anything changes that was submitted on your FAFSA, you should updated it even if it has already been submitted. This can include a change in dependency or your financial situation. You can also correct simple errors like date of birth, email and mailing addresses . This can be done for every section accept the social security number.
7. Include All the Schools
Even if you have your heart set on one school, it does not hurt add other schools you might consider attending. You can enter up to 10 schools at a time, and each of these schools will receive your FAFSA information. Schools will use this information to let you know which scholarships and other financial aid you may qualify for at that is specific school. Sometimes the amount may be just enough to sway your decision, or increase your "negotiating power" by letting schools know you're looking at other schools.
8. Report Accurately but Don't Over-Report
The FAFSA form is a government form that is checked for accuracy. By failing to report truthfully, in hopes of qualifying you for more money, can backfire and get you banned from applying for financial aid in the future. Be honest, but be smart! Know the rules of the road before you fill out the forms. Make sure that you have all of your financial information and tax returns in front of you so you can complete the form with ease. But also know what the questions are asking so that you don't make costly mistakes, that a lot of parents make, by over stating the value of their assets and including assets that could otherwise be excluded.
If you want to learn more watch our free college planing training HERE.
And if you want to model your FAFSA before completing the forms, get your expected family contribution (EFC) and see how much financial aid you can actually get from various colleges, grab our Smart Search Report today. And as always, call or email if you have questions, or drop your comments below.
Roman & Team