MIKE'S MEMOS

Jan
06
Got goals that include the FAFSA? You should.

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January 1st marked the opening of the 2016-17 FAFSA season, the government’s way of wishing all parents of college-bound and current college students a Happy New Year! If your goals and resolutions for 2016 include winning the college game, we can help.

The College Board estimates some 90% of the FAFSAs submitted have mistakes in them.

What?!?

That’s a lot of money being left on the table for families that would prefer to have extra money in their pockets when they write checks for college tuition!

Your answers to the FAFSA’s 100+ questions are what the government uses to calculate the amount that you can afford to pay for one year of college for one child (known as your Expected Family Contribution or EFC). Once they determine your EFC, the government then shares that number with colleges on your child’s list. And they share that info before you ever have a chance to review their determination. If there are errors, they can be righted, but not without a lot of hassle. A. Whole. Lot. This is government paperwork, after all!

It pays to get your filing right the first time.

And in case you’re wondering why (or if) you need to file the FAFSA, read on.

The FAFSA is the gateway to the federally-supported financial aid programs such as Pell Grants (i.e., free money), Work Study, and loans. And here is where the confusion starts. Sure, the federal financial aid system boasts the largest number of scholarship and grant monies available, but it is NOT where most middle-income families find their scholarships and grants.

40% of families who make more than $100,000 will qualify for a need-based grant…and those grants are often large ($10,000+)… but none of these will come from the federal system.

The real grant money for college comes from within the colleges themselves. And most colleges require you complete (as a first step) the FAFSA to even be considered for one of their endowment awards. So, if you plan to send your child to college, submit a FAFSA.

The FAFSA (as it’s name implies) is free to submit, and the form itself is not difficult to complete. Neither is a 1040. What is difficult (in both cases) is ensuring you are appropriately positioned to respond to the questions in a way that leads to the most defensible, favorable outcomes you can ethically and legally achieve. After all, it’s your hard-earned money on the line! And the only way to do that on the FAFSA is to understand the factors behind the seemingly innocuous line items.

There are some 1,200 pages of regulations spelled out under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The Act, which was originally written in 1965 and has been re-written eight times since, is currently undergoing further modifications. Trust me when I say this is not exciting reading. Yet, knowing the loopholes and landmines within these pages are the keys to understanding how to make the FAFSA work for you.

The number one mistake you can make with the FAFSA is to blindly press submit without first understanding how the system works and how to use if to your advantage. With the FAFSA, once you hit submit, it may be too late! You will be told what you can afford, and most likely you’re not going to like what they tell you. (This is especially true for current college families who are about to receive a rude shock. The most recent round of government modifications is causing formerly low EFC s to skyrocket!) If you partner with a professional who knows the FAFSA code, you can bring a lot more grant and scholarship money into your world and that is one goal that’s worth meeting!

Let us know how we can best help you as you work to meet your 2016 goals,

Mike


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