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Saturday, January 11, 2014

7 Myths About the FAFSA and Applying for Financial Aid

I’m currently a junior in college, which means the 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM) will be the last time I complete the FAFSA. However, my sister is going to be starting college in the fall and will be filling out the FAFSA for the first time. Luckily for her, she’ll have me to help her along the way.
Looking back to the first time I completed the FAFSA, I remember some misconceptions that I had about filling it out —and some of my friends had the same ones. Turns out these myths weren’t true. The FAFSA really is an easy-to-complete, online application that will help you plan for and finance your education.
I wanted to share some of these common myths about the FAFSA and applying for financial aid with you. You can also check out Federal Student Aid’s video that addresses these common myths!
  1. I won’t qualify for financial aid because my parents (or I) make too much money.Actually, there isn’t an income cutoff to qualify for financial aid. Your eligibility for financial aid is based on a number of factors and not just your or your parents’ income. Plus, many states and schools use your FAFSA data to determine your eligibility for their aid. Fill out the application and find out what you can get!
  2. I don’t have good grades, so I won’t be eligible for financial aid.Completing the FAFSA isn’t the same as applying to college. Most federal student aid programs don’t take your grades into consideration when you apply. Just remember, once you’re in college, you do need to maintain satisfactory academic progress  in order to continue receiving federal aid.
  3. I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.Federal student aid programs don’t take your age into consideration.
  4. The application is too hard to fill out!Since it’s available online, the FAFSA is easier than ever to complete. The form uses “skip logic,” so you are only asked the questions that are relevant to you. If you’ve filed your taxes, then you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA automatically. And as you go through the application, there will be guided assistance in the margins to help you answer each question. Plus, the FAFSA website has a Help page that addresses most frequently asked questions.
  5.   I have to wait until I (my parents) file taxes.Since some colleges have FAFSA deadlines that are before the tax filing deadline, it’s important to complete the FAFSA early. You can use estimates on your FAFSA by basing them off of last year’s taxes. After you file your taxes, you can log back into the FAFSA and input your updated tax information.
  6. I support myself, so I don’t have to include parent info.This is not necessarily true. Even if you support yourself and file taxes on your own, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. You can determine your dependency status by answering these questions. If you are independent, you don’t need to include your parents’ information on your FAFSA. If you are dependent, you need to provide your parents’ information.
  7. I completed the FAFSA my freshman year, so I don’t have to complete it again.As I said, this will be my fourth time completing the FAFSA. You should complete the FAFSA each year you plan to attend college or career school.
What are you waiting for? Start your application now at www.fafsa.gov!
Consult With Me! Educational Consulting Visit our website at www.consultingwithme.com
Mark Valdez is a student at Brown University and an intern with the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

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If you’re a parent of a college bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming.  Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size?  How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year?  Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:
Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?
While we provide over $150 billion in financial aid each year, the federal student aid programs are based on the assumption that it is primarily your and your child’s responsibility to pay for college.  If your child was born after January 1, 1991 then most likely he or she is considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM).
Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?
If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:
  • If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.
More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here:http://1.usa.gov/1fdcCy2
Who’s considered part of the household?
When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include parents, any dependent student(s) and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of theirsupport from you in the household size.  Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.
Do I need to wait until I file my income taxes?
In some states there are deadlines for additional monies so you’ll want to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st.  You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time you complete the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed.  After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information.  If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.
Do I need to do this every year?
Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid.  The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!
What else do I need to know before I begin?
You’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out
For more information on help with financial aid visit www.consultingwithme.com