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Happy New Year!
The cork pops.
The champagne flows.
And parents everywhere celebrate the first day of the new financial aid season!
No? Not in your house
Every year the dropping of the ball in Times Square not only signals the beginning of a new year, it also signals the first day families can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming school year.
As parents sit down at their computers to complete the FAFSA, they often will have questions about how to answer various questions. When they have questions, there are several unpaid and paid options to get them help they need so your family is the best position to qualify for the financial aid you desire.
What’s the point?
It really boils down to one thing – money, money, money. According the College Board Trends in Student Aid 2013, the federal government funded over 71% of all student aid in the 2012-2013. If you want money to help for college from the federal government, you have to complete their form. Their form is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
** The FAFSA also is used by more than 90% of the colleges and universities to distribute state and college financial aid also. A few colleges and universities also use the CSS Profile to distribute their own money.
Errors mean less money
There is a statistic floating around the Internet that 80% of all FAFSA forms are filed with errors. Having an error on your financial aid forms can keep a family from receiving much needed financial aid. So the primary reason to ask questions as you fill out the financial aid form and is to ensure you don’t mistakenly disqualify yourself from much-needed financial aid.
Who provides help?
Since receiving money from the federal government is dependent on filing out the FAFSA, it’s important that the FAFSA gets completed correctly so that families that will qualify for aid are in the best position to receive the money they need.
The government provides help
The first place to start when looking for help completing your FAFSA is the Department of Education. They have set up a hotline where students and parents can call in to get their questions answered by phone, chat, or email. You can go here: https://fafsa.ed.gov/help.htm
Local college financial officers provide help
If you’re looking for a local connection, families can find a local College Goal Sunday event in their area and get help from local college financial aid officers.
To find a local College Goal Sunday event in your area go here: http://www.collegegoalsundayusa.org/studentsFamilies/pages/where.aspx
Every college can help
A third no-cost resource for getting FAFSA help is to call one of the colleges your child is applying to on the phone and ask them for help. Colleges want you to get all the financial aid your deserve and have talked to thousands of students before you so can answer all you questions.
The important to thing to remember with talking to colleges is that while they all follow they same rules as set forth by the Department of Education; each college can use professional judgment if your situation is outside of the norm and can interpret your situation differently.
Here’s a link to a page from a local private college in my area. Every college your child is applying to will have a similar page. Take the time to get to know and have one person at the financial aid office that you know and knows your situation. Having a personal relationship with a financial aid officer paid dividends while I was in school and has for many of my clients.
A college specialist can help
The final option is talking with a college financial planning specialist. They are trained in the area of college planning and can answer your questions on completing the FAFSA and other college related issues. It’s important to remember that the final option may charge a fee for their help while the other three options are free.
Why pay for a specialist?
If the other three options were free, why would you pay a financial planning specialist? A financial planning specialist can take time with you not only on the FAFSA, but all the decisions that come both before and after completing the FAFSA. They can also help you with the verification process, or evaluating financial aid awards. Ultimately, working with a financial planning specialist can save you from learning a process that can be time consuming and confusing.
If you will have to complete the FAFSA in the upcoming year, there are lots of places to get help if you find yourself stuck and have questions. You can contact the Department of Education, go to a local College Goal Sunday event or contact one of the colleges that accepted your child for admission. A final resource is working with a financial aid specialist.
Are you ready?
Pop the cork, and start your New Year’s celebration. After that, make sure you complete the FAFSA. Your financial aid starts there.