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Tips for Getting a Share of the $227 Billion in Student Aid

The following is a guest article submitted by Mary Fallon from Student Aid Services.

Accuracy Counts

Federal aid applications are rejected by the federal government for errors from miscalculating adjusted gross income to not signing the form. Calculation mistakes can reduce an aid award even if an aid application isn’t rejected. For example, taxable income isn’t adjusted gross income. If parents have tapped into retirement funds, it should be added to either untaxed income or adjusted gross income, not both, or the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will increase, and aid eligibility will decrease.

First-Come, First-Served

Those who file as close to January 1 as possible are in the best position to get all the aid they are eligible to receive. Using income estimates is allowed – even encouraged – and a student won’t lose their place in the virtual line by later updating the application with final income amounts.

Beat Deadlines

Most colleges and states have their own deadlines. The earliest deadline for the 2012-13 FAFSA is in four weeks – Feb 1, 2012. The longer a student waits, the more students get ahead of them.

Not All Assets Count

A primary residence, retirement plans, small family-owned businesses, and the cash value of life insurance don’t count as assets on the FAFSA. Some of the most common and costly mistakes are made by incorrectly reporting assets.

Dependency Surprises

Just because a student financially supports themselves, doesn’t mean they are independent under FAFSA rules. Many students are considered dependent until age 24 requiring parents’ income on their FAFSA. However, for children of divorced parents only the income of the parent with whom the child lived with the most during the past 12 months is counted.

Job Loss Relief

If a member of a household has had their job eliminated, a student may be eligible for more aid. Look for the ‘dislocated worker’ question and see if the family meets one of the four criteria. Dislocated workers’ assets are counted differently than others – typically helping reduce an EFC, which increases aid eligibility.

Double Check

Transposing numbers and mistyping are very common mistakes. Double check everything. There are hundreds of ways to make a mistake on a FAFSA. Having a professional check the answers can help ensure a student gets the most aid possible. Answer the FAFSA truthfully, accurately and completely.

Professional Help

While most high school counselors don’t have time or in-depth FAFSA knowledge to assist students, some communities host FAFSA-preparation events each winter. College financial aid officials may provide guidance to their students. Help from fee-based FAFSA preparation services is allowed, too. Some experts, such as Student Financial Aid Services, provide free or discounted services to low-income students and provide assistance in multiple languages.

Early Estimates in Minutes

Waiting for the spring arrival of aid award letters to learn a student’s aid eligibility and a college’s affordability is agony. Why wait? Check colleges’ Net Price Calculators (NPC) for an estimate of a full-time, first-time student’s aid eligibility and net price.  Advanced NPCs also estimate out-of-pocket cost and the total cost of a degree. The most reliable NPCs ask 30 to 40 questions, which takes about 10 minutes to answer. That’s insight into aid eligibility in the time it takes to make a sandwich. But remember, answering NPC questions, will not get a student their aid, preparing a FAFSA is required.

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2 Responses to “Tips for Getting a Share of the $227 Billion in Student Aid”

  1. Yolanda Champion says:

    I am a full-time student at the age of 48 and will be completing school in December 2014. I am no longer able to receive financial aid, and I am really struggling to find a grant to help me get through school. I refuse to drop out and lose my dignity. I am doing more than I can and I am having a hard time receiving funds for school. I really need help. I have come through a storm and I refuse to give up. Can someone please help me, I am desperate to find a way out. I have applied for a lot of jobs and continue to keep searching until I find one. I am now homeless, living with my retired mother and I have to move out, I lost my apartment because I lost my job on campus, which really helped me. I am fighting a battle that I do not want to lose. Please guide me to someone that can help.

    • Hi Yolanda,

      Appreciate your comment. As important as your educational goals may be, I think you first need to try and cover your basic necessities of food and shelter. This can be accomplished through employment or by seeking public assistance.

      Once you have that in place, you should start focusing on your education right away. Who knows.. you may find an employer that will be willing to help cover the costs.

      I wish you well in your quest. Certainly feel free to keep us up to speed with your progress.