FAFSA Made Easy for Parents
- July 27, 2015
- Posted by: email@example.com
- Category: College Admissions
The time has finally come: your child is going to college! Though she’s the one doing the heavy lifting (taking the SAT and ACT, studying hard, and writing her admission essays), you’re along for the ride, which has its share of bumpy patches. You need to let your student take the lead, but there will be many moments when you have to weigh in. One crucial task only you can accomplish is to learn the ins and outs of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
With costs of tuition as high as ever, any form of financial help is welcome. You and your child should spend some time researching scholarships to see which ones she may qualify for.
Then there’s the FAFSA, which is accessible to everyone and should be on your priority list along with scheduling tours, filling out college applications, and meeting college admissions requirements (see the government site discussing filling out the FAFSA). Even if you know that you won’t receive any need-based financial aid, you must fill out the FAFSA to be eligible for scholarships.
Though it may seem complicated, the FAFSA is really quite simple. Let’s break down the FAFSA together and answer some FAQ’s.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is a free application form that allows colleges and universities to which your child is applying to take your income as declared on your tax return and put it into a formula to determine how much federal aid your student is entitled to. Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, Federal Work-Study programs, Stafford Loans and PLUS loans are all forms of student aid subsidized by the federal government.
General Tips and Procedures
File early – This may be the most inconvenient part of the FAFSA. Colleges need your information by February (sometimes sooner) though your taxes won’t be officially due until April 15th. You’ll have to give an estimate, perhaps using your tax return from the year before, if you haven’t had any major changes in income. There is an “Income Estimator” function on the online application that will help you estimate your income.
IRS DRT – The IRS DRT (Data Retrieval Tool) is part of the FAFSA that allows you access to the IRS website where you’ll be able to transfer your tax information to the FAFSA. It’s the most convenient way to transfer your tax information to the FAFSA. Some parents who manually enter their information are selected for a verification process and asked to provide transcripts of their taxes. By using the IRS DRT to transfer your information, you avoid being selected for this procedure, and it also helps you avoid making mistakes when entering information on the FAFSA form.
What to include – You’ll be providing information that includes income, investments, stocks, bonds, real estate (except for the house you live in), farms and businesses, child support received, veterans’ benefits and information about other children attending college.
Top ten – Students can send FAFSA information to ten colleges. Each of these colleges may formulate their financial aid packages at different times, so the earlier your child defines the schools they want to attend, the better. It bears repeating: the earlier, the better.
State aid – Many, but not all states have their own state aid that they offer in addition to federal aid. The FAFSA is also used to calculate this. An option will appear for you to provide information to your state, if it applies. Some states may ask for an additional application for student aid besides the FAFSA.
Making changes- After you’ve sent the FAFSA with your estimated income, it will take a few weeks for it to be processed. Eventually, you’ll receive an SAR (Student Aid Report) which is the amount of federal aid your child qualifies for based on your estimates. If you need to make changes to your tax information when you have concrete numbers, you may log in to the FAFSA website and make the changes. Afterwards, a new SAR will be generated.
How Do I Know If My Child is a Dependent?
The FAFSA is filled out by parents whose children are dependents. If your child is not a dependent, then you don’t need to fill out the FAFSA. To find out if a child is considered a dependent or not, FAFSA provides this questionnaire.
Who Should Provide Their Tax Information?
FAFSA recognizes the various domestic situations that may cause some confusion about who exactly is assuming financial responsibility as the parent on the FAFSA. The following guidelines should provide some clarity:
If you’ve never been married or if you are divorced or separated: The parent whom the child lived with the most in the last 12 months will provide his or her tax information on the FAFSA.
If you’re unmarried but living together: Both parents will provide tax information on the FAFSA.
If you’re remarried after being widowed or divorced: Biological parent and step-parent provide tax information on the FAFSA.
If you’re widowed: The surviving parent will provide tax information on the FAFSA.
What If I Have More Than One Child in College? Do I Have to Fill Out the FAFSA Multiple Times?
No. The tax information that you entered on the FAFSA can be applied to your other children attending college or planning to attend college next year. There’s a link to transfer the information to siblings on the confirmation page before sending the FAFSA. Be sure to click on this link before finishing the FAFSA.
I’m a Foreigner and So is My Child. Should I Still Fill Out the FAFSA?
Yes. If you are a foreigner, you should still fill out a FAFSA. Permanent residents, foreign nationals, and foreigners holding a variety of visa statuses can apply for Federal Student Aid. Check out this official government website for details.
My Child’s GPA Isn’t the Greatest. Should I Still Fill Out the FAFSA?
Yes. Federal student aid programs don’t consider students’ high school grades when calculating your SAR (Student Aid Report). Grades will be considered by the colleges and merit-based scholarships to which your student may apply. After admission, as long as your student maintains satisfactory grades in her college or university, your federal student aid package will not be affected.
My Partner and I Have a High Income. Should I Still Fill Out the FAFSA?
Yes. Even if you have a high income, you never know what you’re eligible for until you fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA helps to calculate not only federal student aid but state aid as well. In addition, some schools use the FAFSA to award financial aid packages, including merit-based scholarships. Don’t assume your child won’t qualify for aid. Fill out the FAFSA and find out.
The FAFSA Is Confusing. Where Can I Find Some Help?
The online FAFSA is designed to be as easy and user-friendly as possible. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t hit some snags. If you do hit one, you can chat with an online customer service representative or call the toll-free number 1-800-4-FED-AID. Your child’s high school counselor may also be able to provide some guidance.