Conquering The FAFSA and That Other Financial Aid Form

If it’s January, it must be financial aid time!  If the first sentence doesn’t scare you, keep reading for some tips on how to best complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile (the other financial aid form).

Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of families complete their financial aid forms, and we’ve learned some tips to navigate the process effectively.  Here are just a few that may help you:

1.  Get the FAFSA done YESTERDAY.  The FAFSA becomes available on January 1 of your student’s senior year of high school.  Many schools have February 1 deadlines; others are a little later, but the earlier you get the forms done, the better your chances for aid are.

2.  Don’t have your 2013 tax returns or W-2 forms yet?  Then estimate, based on last year’s forms.  Most of us have a good idea of what will be coming in for 2013.  Use last year’s W-2 and your 2012 tax return to help you gauge this year’s numbers.

3.  Don’t worry about getting it exactly right.  You’ll have an opportunity or two to adjust the numbers correctly after you’ve filed your tax return for 2013.

4.  Check your child’s college web sites to see if they require you to complete additional forms, like the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA.  The Profile is much more complicated, and may require the help of an experienced college financial aid advisor.  The form is about 5 times longer than the FAFSA and get can quite complicated.  It also considers different assets and your income differently in calculating your ability to pay for college.

5.  Even though the FAFSA (and Profile) form asks for your child’s email address, list yours instead.  How many kids check their email?  Even if they do, they probably won’t respond to anything that says “financial aid,” and you could miss important information from the feds or your child’s schools.

6.  List any money you have in a 529 Plan as a PARENT asset on the FAFSA.  529 Plan money is considered as a parent, not student asset in the aid formulas.

7.  Complete your tax return as soon as possible, preferably by mid February.  Why?  Because many colleges will ask for your tax return data to verify the information you’ve provided.  Some schools will not process or finalized your financial aid package until after they see a copy of your W-2 and tax return forms.

Our clients receive this and additional information early (in November) so they are well prepared to complete the necessary forms in a strategic and timely fashion.  In doing so we can help them save thousands of dollars each year off the cost of college.  Hopefully, these tips will help you as well…Good luck!