Category Archives: FAFSA

FAFSA with use 2 year old tax data.

President Changes FAFSA to Give Families Better College Affordability Information.

This change in the FAFSA start-date starting on October 1st 2016, along with the recently announced College Scorecard system, are game changing aids for families with college-bound children.

All at once, families will have the information they need to make college lists that are actually affordable for their financial circumstances. The College Scorecard is a complementary tool that will allow a family to use their actual federal financial aid eligibility to compare school costs before their student applies.

Never before has this been possible, and it makes me wonder why the college financial aid system ever got to the point where students were applying blindly to schools they could not afford if they were accepted. When you think about it, that’s pretty much the definition of a disfunctional system. Hate to put it so bluntly, but there you have it.

There has been a lot of fear on the part of institutions of higher education everywhere. Changing the FAFSA start-date encountered a lot of political push-back. It took a lame-duck president, looking for legacy, to pull the plug on this systemic bottleneck.

This change will cause a rapid re-examination of business plans in colleges across the country. Recruitment, budget cycles, processing aid applications and issuing awards all must happen a lot earlier.

At this time we are in the one year countdown. Next year on October 1, 2016, if all goes well, the very first “early” FAFSA applications will be filed.

Will the FAFSA-only colleges be ready? There could be a tsunami of applicants, many of whom had never considered filling out the FAFSA because of it’s complexity. There might be a lot more Pell Grant recipients, who knows? The whole FAFSA system may slow down or even malfunction (like you know what!) under the weight of applications. But, in the long run processes will smooth themselves out. Meanwhile college students will be making “aid aware” college choices that might keep the Student Loan Monster at bay!
But still, the question remains: why did we, the parents, allow such a crazy system to persist for so long? Hmmmm….

How to understand financial aid award letters

Decode College Financial Aid Awards!

Okay, what the heck! Why can’t colleges just be clear about their financial aid offers.

All across the nation, high school seniors are receiving their financial aid award letters from the colleges to which they have been accepted.

Students and parents alike will be overjoyed as they take a first glance at these letters. After all, real professionals have carefully formulated these documents for maximum obfuscation.

Many who receive these well-crafted offers will believe that their top choice college dreams have been fulfilled.

The celebrations will commence. The heady feelings will go on for days. Then, someone may point out a questionable figure in the offer, and the clouds of doubt will move in.

The family will be confused, and as usual it will fall to Mom to interpret the meaning of the cryptic line item.

Mom, the detective, must now spend hours and days on the internet seeking out experts. She will repeatedly call the college or colleges asking questions, the answers for which she has no background to make an informed interpretation.

When, through enormous effort, the bad news is revealed, and it is determined that the dream college is unaffordable, there will be WAILING. And that’s not all…there will also be DOOR SLAMMING. Shall I go on? No, I think you get the picture…

Why, why, why can’t this information be made clear right away. Get the bad news out there and move on.

Do colleges really think that families will somehow make magic money appear? Well, yes. But it will probably be the magic money known as soul-crushing student loan debt.

It’s time for all financial aid award letters to be standardized to help consumers. So far, the only thing out there is the Education Department’s Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. Thankfully, it’s being adopted, albeit slowly, by some correct-thinking colleges.

My hope for the future is that all colleges and universities get on the transparency bandwagon!

The Federal Work-Study Program Gets Studied!

Brush up on the topic of Federal Work-Study programs by watching my video. Then please read my blog entry to get the latest info!

 

The Federal Work-Study program has been a feature at a large number of colleges for many years. But lately a report done by the student advocacy group called “Young Invincibles” and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has called for reforming the system.

The report is titled “A Federal Work-Study Reform Agenda to Better Serve Low-Income Students”. Here is the link to the PDF:  http://younginvincibles.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Federal-Work-Study-Reform-Agenda-Sept-181.pdf

The report says that too much of the federal work-study money goes to large private colleges that have been in the system the longest. For-profit colleges get a hefty amount based on their numerous Pell Grant students. Newer community colleges get the least money, even though they also enroll low-income students.

The report studied how this large pot of Federal money (more than $1 billion) could be better used.
It recommended that the Federal Work Study program should reward schools that enroll low-income students, graduate them at high rates, and make sure they have the skills to get good jobs.

Read between the lines and you’ll find that the notorious for-profit colleges get righteously excluded from work-study funds, even though they “serve” more needy students than anyone else!

The Young Invincibles report also emphasizes the need for work-study jobs to better relate to a student’s field of study. If these reform recommendations were implemented, many of the jobs traditionally grabbed by students who want to work AND study at the exact same time, would disappear. No more manning desks in dorm lobbies or library entrances. Instead, work-study jobs might look more like paid internships where students get real-life career experience.

I can’t see a downside to this. Let me know what you think.

Work, Study and Earn!
Federal Work-Study Programs Are Financial Aid You Earn!
FAFSA Time Again!

FAFSA – Get In Line Early For College Financial Aid!

Please watch this video and see how nerdwallet.com offers a FAFSA tutorial in it’s education section that is the most complete I’ve seen. There are other good tutorials out there and I’ll link you to one that I think is very user friendly further down in this week’s blog.

As I write this entry, it is just a few days before Christmas 2014. Doesn’t it feel like you haven’t gotten everything done yet? But if you are on the hunt for college financial aid, then you’ll need to keep your mind on just one more thing: January 1st at the stroke of 12:01am you can start filling out the 2015 FAFSA form! WooHoo! Just what you wanted to do on New Year’s Eve, right?

Okay, last FAFSA season I wanted our family to be at the head of the line for financial aid, so I actually started my FAFSA in the early morning of January 1st.  I ran into a whole lot of website trouble, which compared eerily to the healthcare.gov launch. Nothing was working correctly and my progress would simply disappear for no apparent reason. I slogged on for hours, saving after each tiny entry. Eventually, I wrestled the FAFSA to the ground and made it submit, literally! Not very fun.

So, my advice is to wait for January 2nd, which is not a holiday. Government offices will be open and the website elves will have the gears oiled up and running smoothly.

Take a moment in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to study the nerdwallet.com video, and another great tutorial produced by the University of California system. Here’s that link: http://www.finaid.ucsb.edu/fafsasimplification/ and here’s a screenshot of it:

UC FAFSA Tutorial
Very Helpful FAFSA Tutorial!

College student voices guide you through a series of mini-tutorials on each major section of the FAFSA form. You’ll need to launch each part by clicking the tabs at the top of the page. Notice how well my dog can draw a big red arrow pointing to the tabs!

Yes, I know you don’t have your 2014 taxes done yet. Never mind that little concern. Just go right ahead and use your 2013 tax return. If it’s likely to be nearly the same as this years’ return then you will be just fine. It’s important to get in line for college financial aid early. The FAFSA helps you qualify for more than just federal aid. State aid is linked to this form as well, and funds can run out the longer you wait. Not only that, but colleges that also use the CSS Profile form to hand out their institutional funds, will want to see the results of your FAFSA to help guide their decisions. So don’t wait!

When you are eventually able to file your taxes, you can log back into your FAFSA and use the IRS Retrieval Tool. With slightly disturbing ease,  the Retrieval Tool connects the FAFSA directly to the IRS (!), which will kindly merge your new tax return information into the FAFSA form.

Filing out the FAFSA early assures your place in line. Using the IRS Retrieval Tool almost always keeps you out of the verification process. Do this and the schools that you named to receive the results of your FAFSA will not require you to send them your actual tax returns! One less step for beleaguered parents and students.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

FAFSA Time Again!
FAFSA tutorials are featured in this blog entry.

 

 

College Applications are Outta Control!

Kids binging on filling out college applications is not a pretty sight. Five new completely different essays each night after school, and when that gets old, then out comes the old “cut and paste” routine. Pretty soon a high school senior starts to think his own personal story is a work of fiction.

Exactly why this is happening has an easy answer…because they can!…thanks to the Common Application which is making it possible to crank out college applications in unprecedented numbers.

Now the hard-to-swallow answer: Nobody is helping these high school seniors, as bright as they may be, to sort through their college application lists. So with no help, seniors are not taking any chances of getting shut out of college.

As long as Mom and Dad will allow their credit cards to get filled up with application charges (at $40-90 a pop!), then students will keep applying. With no counselor to help kids understand which schools they are most likely to be accepted by, and most importantly, to help families understand which schools they might be able to afford, the binge fest will continue.

In this video, I use about one minute more than my normal three, to go down those two critical roads: acceptance probability and family affordability. Please watch to see if I nail it. Please give me comments here or email me at TheCollegeMoneyMom@gmail.com.

College Applications Runneth Over!
College Applications need to be pared down. Watch my video!

The CSS Profile Lives…Again!

Born just last week, the ever-charming CSS Profile for 2015-16 is online now!

Most colleges are satisfied with the financial information they get from the FAFSA form, which is not available until January 1st of each year. But over 250 colleges and universities, the ones with big endowments, are looking for the best students they can get and they will use their funds to make it possible (or desirable) for those students to attend their institutions. The College Board administrates the CSS Profile financial aid questionaire on behalf of these schools and has a list of them at their website, https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile . So whether you are applying for the first time to one of the colleges that require this form, or whether you are applying for the next school year of college financial aid, this is the time to start getting familiar with this complex form. Current high school seniors will need to start now to fill out the CSS Profile if they are going for any kind of Early Decision or Early Action. Others may have until April 15th of next year.
It’s important to understand that while the FAFSA form asks the same questions of every applicant, the CSS Profile is customizable by each participating college. Each is able to ask different specific questions to elicit the kind of detail their financial aid administrators need to dispense aid in the best way for their institution’s enrollment goals. The College Board charges a fee for each CSS Profile application, while the Federal government’s FAFSA form is free. Watch my video about the CSS Profile to get in the right mindset for this invasive, yet potentially valuable financial exercise.

FAFSA News Sparks Snark

In a google search for FAFSA news, one of the recently published search items is a story from a New Jersey newspaper’s website titled “FAFSA confusion: College students lose financial aid due to decimal point error on application”.

Apparently, at least 165,000 college students stumbled over a quirk in the on-line FAFSA application which caused them to declare that their family’s income was WAY bigger than it actually was.

The little “.00” outside the blanks where a student fills in the family’s income is a hint that you need to round off the income total to the nearest dollar, rather than enter the small change in the blank space allowed. For example, a student declaring a family income of $22,852.19 would actually be telling the government that the family raked in $2,285,219 that year! OOPS!

That student would find herself excluded from most, if not all, federal financial aid. This would include federal grants like the Pell Grant, federal student loans with favorable rates and terms, and federal work-study funds set aside for students with lower family incomes.

According to this article, Federal officials say they will correct the aid awards if/when the errors are found. So nice, so civilized.

It’s when the reader scrolls down to the comments that the fun begins.

The vitriol rolls out thusly:

“If they can’t follow simple instructions, maybe they aren’t college material.”

“Apparently millions of college students can read…and apparently 165,000 others cannot.”

“I would think due to the importance of this form, one would check it over before actually filing it.”

“Hope the applicants were not math, science or engineering majors!”

And it goes downhill, rapidly, from there.

I love the comment sections of news stories. Without them there would be a whole lot more pent-up anger in America than there already is!

To read this for yourself (or even to add your own snark ration) click this link:

http://www.nj.com/education/2014/07/fafsa_confusion_college_students_lose_financial_aid_due_to_decimal_point_error_on_application.html

To get ready for the FAFSA rush starting January 1st of each year, watch my video on the subject:

 

FAFSA – Not That Scary!

Don’t run! It’s just the FAFSA!

Just sit down and watch this video. You might just feel a whole lot more confident and ready to tackle this infamous government financial aid form. After all it’s the most effective way to get money for college! It’s hard to believe, but the FAFSA is the gateway form to just about all the college financial aid there is.  The Federal Government takes the information you enter in the FAFSA form and computes your Expected Family Contribution or EFC. Almost all colleges take their cue from the EFC when it comes to handing out  grants, scholarships, work-study funds and federal student loans. Compared to the much more invasive CSS Profile form used by about 250 elite private schools, the FAFSA is a comparative snap. But stay vigilant and do your homework. This is your chance to get your fair share of the Federal student aid pie.