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FAFSA: Specific Tips to Maximize Your Financial Aid

Updated on October 15, 2013
FAFSA Walk-through Video
FAFSA Walk-through Video | Source

Student loan debt is now the second highest ranked consumer loan debt, next to mortgages, according to the New York Federal Reserve, with the amount of outstanding student loan debt exceeding $1 trillion in March of 2012.

Given this shocking number, it has become increasingly important to seek alternative or additional means of financing for a college education. Fortunately, financial aid is also available to students in the form of scholarships and grants. This is where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) comes in. In addition to granting you eligibility for federal loans, completing the FAFSA also makes you eligible to receive financial aid such as the Pell Grant as well as other grants and scholarships. Want to learn more about the FAFSA?

While the FAFSA can be the key to receiving the financial aid you need, it is a lengthy form that requires a lot of detailed information, which makes it more likely you might fill something out incorrectly along the way. Unfortunately, one mistake could spell the difference between aid and no aid. Don’t allow your child to miss out on a valuable scholarship or grant because of a preventable error.

Here are five important tips in completing the FAFSA:

  1. Plan your assets. A good type of asset to own when applying for financial aid is a retirement account such as an IRA or 401(k). These qualified retirement accounts, whether owned by you or by your child, are not counted at all in determining federal financial aid. Use caution, however, whenwithdrawing money from your IRA (or any retirement account) to pay for college. Though the tax law now allows penalty-free withdrawals from a traditional or Roth IRA to pay for qualified college costs, doing so could jeopardize financial aid in the following year. The entire withdrawal, principal and earnings, counts as income on the following year's aid application.
  2. Move savings out of your child’s account. The idea here is that you really have to understand how the FAFSA formula works. The formula counts 2.6%-5.6% of a parent’s assets as being available to pay for college expenses and20% of a student’s assets as an available financial resource. Basically, this means that assets belonging to the student result in a greater reduction in financial aid. By moving a child’s assets into an account that is not in their name, it will reduce the amount you have to report on the FAFSA.
  3. Submit your form early. Filling up the forms can be tedious but you shouldn’t put it off. There are a lot of applicants seeking the same financial assistance as you. Therefore, it’s a good idea to submit your application as early as you can. If possible, submit before the deadline. This is not a good time to dally, because you might just lose out to the students who submitted ahead of you.
  4. Write a letter. Since the form itself is quite rigid, some families who experienced special circumstances can add a letter to talk about their situation (like the death of a parent or sudden job loss, for example). Back up the letter with proof and other documents to support it. A lot of colleges will consider what you have to say when deciding on your child’s financial aid package.

5. Check and double check before submitting the form. It’s very easy to make a mistake when you’re filling out a complicated form. Have someone else check your form, too, in case you missed anything. It’s the easiest way to ensure that you got all the important details—and even the minor ones—correct.

The FAFSA is the subject of most financial aid questions, but it is only the start of the financial aid process.
The FAFSA is the subject of most financial aid questions, but it is only the start of the financial aid process.

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