Last Minute Financial Aid Tips

June 13, 2013
by Jason
Founder, Frugal Dad

We publish a lot of information, and a lot of it has to do with financial aid. At this time of year when students and their parents may be in a panic trying to get their financial aid applications in before it’s too late, it can be hard to distill all the information you’re getting bombarded with from this and other sites. Inspired by an article Victor Luckerson recently published on “Time” magazine’s business site — “10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of College Financial Aid” — I decided that our readers could use a breakdown of some of the more useful financial aid tips, too.

Luckerson’s top tip is, and regular readers of this blog will know I agree wholeheartedly, to file early! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2013-2014 academic year became available on January 1. Most colleges and universities require the FAFSA to be completed in order to determine financial aid eligibility. Some schools actually require students (and, thus, parents when applicable) to file their FAFSAs by mid-February. Even if you’ve missed that deadline, don’t NOT file.

Another reason to file early is to get your application in before financial aid funds run out. Many schools award funds on a first-come, first-serve basis until all earmarked aid funds are gone. Increasingly, students with need outpace available funds, and late filers lose out every year. It’s not just schools either. Some states, including Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington, also hand out aid until resources are depleted and then close the coffer doors. Students who are expecting aid in these states are advised to file their applications now, if they haven’t already.

I know that the FAFSA asks for tax information, but don’t wait until you file your taxes to file your FAFSA. Use information from last year, or just make your best estimate. You can always go back and amend your application online once your taxes are filed; but it is important to get your FAFSA in front of financial aid administrators as soon as possible.
Don’t pay anyone to fill out the FAFSA for you. Many sites are out there that purport to assist you in filling out the application for aid and then want to charge you. You will only have to gather all the same information and input the same answers that you will on the free government site. The Deptartment of Education’s FAFSA site isn’t pretty, but it’s guided and all you need to do is answer the questions it asks. It’s not hard and is no more time-consuming than inputting information into a website that charges you to file the application.

Make sure you’re filling out the correct forms. Most schools require you to fill out the FAFSA. However, a number of schools, mostly private, also require The College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to be completed. Check with your school’s financial aid office for application requirements. It would be no fun at all to have your aid delayed because you only completed half the necessary paperwork… or worse, the wrong application all together.

As stressful as the process may look or feel, it’s really not that bad. While you — or your children — are attending school, be sure to keep track of changes that may affect your financial aid award throughout the year. You know you’ll be applying for aid, and anything from a change in jobs to an increase in housing expenses or even a divorce can affect aid eligibility. Keep a log of events, even if they turn out to be irrelevant to your financial aid, that affect you financially. Evernote is an app that is particularly well suited for such tasks.
Along these same lines, keep track of all your school expenses. For now, anyway, qualifying education expenses are deductible on your federal tax return. Some states also allow such deductions. Save some money on your taxes and use it trim your future education outlays.

FrugalDad.com focuses on issues of higher education and how to pay for it.

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