If one of your New Year’s resolutions had something to do with helping your child find scholarship money for college, then your first order of business is to complete the FAFSA.
FAFSA is the acronym for the government’s financial aid application: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov). Colleges determine the amount of aid you’ll receive based on your EFC (Expected Family Contribution), a product from the FAFSA form.
Start now. FAFSA applications became available Jan. 1. In North Carolina and six other states (Illinois, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington) the award money is doled out on a first-come, first-served basis; so it’s important to be a good role model for your children and not procrastinate.
You won’t get any money if you don’t fill out the form. Don’t assume you won’t receive any aid. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Finaid.com, estimates that households earning up to $180,000 will likely qualify for some sort of financial aid. It’s also important to note that students can be penalized, and not allowed to apply for aid in future years if their family’s financial situation changes, if there is no FAFSA application on file.
You do not need to have completed your 2013 tax forms to submit the FAFSA. You can use your pay stubs from December 2013 and your tax returns from 2012 as an estimate.
If you do estimate, you will need to come back and update your form once you have submitted your 2013 taxes. You are encouraged to do it this way so that you have the greatest chance of receiving the most money.
• Check the specific college FAFSA deadlines, because some are as early as mid-February.
• Determine which, if any, of the colleges on your child’s list require the CSS Profile, which asks for more detailed information and may have different deadlines.
• Fill out the form online if possible, because it guides you through the form with prompts that prevent you from making many of the most common errors.
• Monitor your children’s bank and brokerage accounts and move funds to a 529 account. It makes sense to minimize the assets in your children’s names. The FAFSA formulas assume that students should be able to spend 20 percent of their assets on college. Parental assets and 529s are evaluated at 5.64 percent, which could mean a big differential in what the government expects you to pay and how much money you might receive. For families with younger children, begin saving money in 529 accounts instead of setting up child-owned college funds.
Financial aid resources: www.finaid.org; www.bigfuture.collegeboard.org
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: email@example.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com
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