January 1 marks the start of the FAFSA season.
If you will be applying for financial aid this year for a new or returning college student, it’s time to tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to make mistakes on the forms and these errors could cost you a ton of money. Resources exist, however, to help you survive the process. Here are six resources to get you started:
1. Use FAFSA on the Web.
The federal government can help with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which families must complete to be eligible for need-based aid and federal student loans. The FAFSA hotline is (800) 433-3243. When you working on the FAFSA online, you can also click on the “Live Help” button.
2. Use the FAFSA Worksheet.
Completing the FAFSA will be easier if you know what documents to gather and what the questions will be in advance. That’s no problem if you use the 2014-2015 FAFSA Worksheet. I’ve provided the link, but you can find the worksheet by heading to the FAFSA website and typing worksheet into the search box.
3. Edvisors FAFSA Guide.
I’d recommend that you check out a valuable new guide, Filing the FAFSA: The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid 2014-2014 Edition. Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized financial aid expert, and David Levy, the former financial aid director at Cal Tech and Scripps College, wrote this amazing 144-page guide. You should discover the answers that you are looking for in this guide. I’ll write more about what you can find in this resource later.
I can’t link to this guide yet because it hasn’t been released, but it will be any day now. When it’s available, there will be a prominent link on the website of Edvisors Network, which is a series of web sites about planning and paying for college. The guide will be free on Edvisor Network’s website and there will be a charge if you obtain the print or Kindle version on Amazon.
4. NerdWallet – FAFSA Community.
NerdWallet’s FAFSA Community is a new online resource that was launched in 2013 thanks to funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The site offers FAFSA guides that can help you determine who needs to file a student’s FAFSA. For many families this is a bewildering question. For instance, what if the parents are living together, but not married? Or what happens if the parents are divorced or a child is living with a guardian? FAFSA Community also has a tutorial on how to complete the FAFSA and it also can help through its FAFSA FAQ section.
5. Pay a Preparer.
Whenever I see advice about FAFSA assistance, it will inevitably include some variation of this admonition: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER pay anyone to complete your FAFSA or CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.
Frankly, I don’t understand why the higher-ed industry is so focused on scaring people away from getting help completing these complicated documents. Why shouldn’t people seek out advice just as they would seek out professionals to fix their transmission or file their taxes?
The danger, as I see it is, is that you could end up paying someone an obscene amount of money for a service that should be easy for a professional. I’m afraid a lot of the guys who promote their services are snake oil salesman who are really interested in selling you annuities and life insurance. You should stay away from them.
Luckily, there is a safe and inexpensive place to get help completing the FAFSA – Student Financial Aid Services. The cost is $80 and $100 and for many people I think it would be worth it for piece of mind.
6. Take advantage of College Goal Sunday.
Scattered across the country are events scheduled to help families with their FAFSA. College Goal Sunday events are being held in dozens of states and the District of Columbia. The California Student Aid Commission (the biggest percentage of my blog visitors are from California) also offers help through its California Cash for College workshops.