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FAFSA Again!

By Terry Savage on October 02, 2020

While college students and their parents are still trying to get through this horrendous year, it’s time to look forward to next year. That means re-applying for financial aid for 2020-2021. And for parents of high school students this marks the start of a journey through FAFSA that must be replayed every year.

FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid.” And even those families that don’t think they’ll qualify based on income should file the form, because many other grants and scholarships, not based on need, require the form as a starting point.

The first date for filing FAFSA is October 1st. Procrastinators lose out, because many schools offer their pool of merit-based aid on a first-come, first-served basis. And they look at FAFSA to get the entire financial process started.

Filing the FAFSA form – a revealing picture of the student’s family finances – determines the amount of Federal needs-based aid that will be offered. That leads to the Student Aid Report (SAR), which details the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). After the school offers work/study programs and merit-based aid from its endowment, it’s up to the family to fill the gap – either from savings or from private borrowing.

Don’t be afraid to look at that deep hole you might be required to fill. Instead, be the first to get the forms filed and the process started. You can learn more at FAFSA.ed.gov, where you can fill out the forms online. Even better, download the MyStudentAid app, available for either Apple or Android devices.

And this year there is a one-stop guide to everything you should know about the financial aid process at SavingforCollege.com. That link will take you directly to their “Complete Guide to Financial Aid and the FAFSA” section. It includes links to helpful calculators — and be sure to read the “Costly Myths” section before you decide you won’t bother with FAFSA.

Start at the above-linked government website by setting up your FAFSA account and creating a password. This process will create your FSA ID. Parents and children can and should create separate passwords — helpful for parents who want to keep income information private and out of view of either the student or a divorced spouse. You’ll need social security numbers, birth dates, driver’s license numbers. But the custodial parent’s income tax information will be automatically downloaded into the application.

FAFSA uses information from the income tax return you filed in July this year for 2019, so don’t wait for your year-end 2020 numbers. If the family has had a significant drop in income, there is a way to amend the form to show you’re now earning less.

Make sure your contact info on the form is correct, and watch for an email response notifying you that your student aid account is active for this year. Also, watch for emails from the government requesting more information.

Make a list of the top 10 schools you want to receive your SAR report. It will be sent to them automatically at the same time you receive your copy, likely within 10 days of completing the application. Then you can always add more schools to the list.

Don’t forget to REAPPLY for financial aid if you received it last year. The process is not automatic, and the same deadlines apply.

Talk with your college advisor or call the school’s financial aid office and ask any questions about how that specific school might supplement any Federal financial aid, such as Stafford loans and Pell grants, as well as work/study programs. This year colleges are worried about filling their classes for 2020-2021. That could result in more financial aid if you’re willing to commit to early admission. And, the changed circumstances might make an out-of-state school more affordable than your state school.

As you make your list of colleges to receive the results of your FAFSA form, start by considering the price tag! Use the excellent EFC calculator at SavingForCollege.com to see how much your family will be expected to contribute to total costs.

Financial aid will likely not fill the entire gap between cost and savings. Parental PLUS loans are the most expensive way of borrowing to fill that gap, because of the up-front fees and higher rates.
Private loans are also punitive. But you can learn more about private student loans and compare them at Credible.com.

Everything is different this year. After a year of trying to balance distance learning and on-campus activities, colleges and universities have become much more flexible. And that often translates into negotiable. So start at the start by filing FAFSA. Everyone hopes to be on campus full-time a year from now. Now’s the time to start thinking about how to pay for it. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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