February 27, 2017

What You Need to Know About the FAFSA

Time for your child to apply to college? You may have thought many times about this day, and have also spent some time pondering the question “How will I pay for this?!”

The stress of college tuition and expenses is one that I am sure weighs heavy on every parent’s mind, from the moment their child enters high school. Once the fall of senior year approaches, it is time for parents and students to go into full-fledged “College Mode”, with students completing applications and compiling essays.

While students need to do the bulk of the work when it comes to managing deadlines and completing their applications on time, parents can begin to gather their tax information together to help their student complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

What every parent should know about the FAFSA.

When is it due?

At this time, the FAFSA can be completed as early as October 1st the year before your child begins college and can use the tax information from earlier in the year. This as known as your “Prior, Prior Year” tax information. So for example, if your child plans on attending college in September 2018 and you plan on completing the FAFSA in October of 2017, you would be using tax data from 2016 that you filed early in the year of 2017.

Who fills it out?

The application, which is online, has both parent and student sections. There are indicators as to whether both parents are filling it out, or if it is the case of a single parent completing the FAFSA.

If parents are divorced, then the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA. The custodial parent is considered to be the parent with which the child lives with most of the time. If the child lives with each parent for an equal amount of time each year then the custodial parent is considered the parent who provides the most financial support.

Why should I fill it out?

The FAFSA is required in order for your student to receive federal financial aid in the form of grants, subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Some parents believe they should skip filling it out as they believe they won’t qualify for financial aid, but you really don’t know that until you submit. Factors like having more than one child in college at a time can lower your expected contribution and make financial aid more likely. Also, most colleges will use information on the FAFSA to create their own calculations of additional financial aid they may have available aside from federal money.

What do I need to complete it?

Almost all of the information needed for the document is pulled directly from your tax return. The form could not make it easier for parents; they direct you to the line item on your tax return for easy completion.

A few key things to note; if your child filed taxes for a summer or part-time job last year, then his or her tax return will be needed as well. There is space to document the information on that return.

The FAFSA will ask for the names of schools to which your child is seeking admission. The day you sit down to fill out this form is not the day to debate the pros and cons of applying to different colleges and universities. Do yourself and your child a favor and have the “final” list set before you begin this process. Although schools can be added later, it is always best to know where they want to go, before working on the form.

At times in the application, there will be extra space provided to expand upon your answer. It is a good idea to take advantage of this whenever possible. This can help provide a clearer picture of your finances and what you can actually afford to contribute toward college costs. Leave no box blank if it asks for comments or additional information.  Share whatever you can about your living expenses, any increase in expenses you anticipate and how you as the parent plan to assist your child with the fees associated with a college education.  A little bit of information can go a long way; so if the application asks for it, then provide it.

Applying to college is no easy process, for the parent or the child, but when you come to the table prepared, the meal goes down a lot easier!

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