filling out the FAFSA

Filling Out The FAFSA

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There are three ways that the department of education offers to fill out the FAFSA;

  1. The FAFSA on the Web (FOTW)
  2. The Paper FAFSA
  3. The Downloadable PDF FAFSA

One can follow any of the above three methods, but the best of them is filing the form online, because it has got the following advantages over the others:

  1. The online version allows you to list 10 colleges of your wish, which is only 4 in the paper and the PDF version.
  2. There won’t be any fear of the mistake by the post office (sometimes they may misplace or loose or deliver the form late.)
  3. The fear of wrong data entry by some over worked clerk at the FAFSA processor is also avoided
  4. The online FAFSA data is processed faster
  5. The online FASA form has an interactive data retrieval system that allows you to transfer information on your tax return directly from the IRS website to the form
  6. You can be consistent in providing the data, as the online form has got inbuilt skip logic.

One can find the details about ways to complete the online FAFSA form, or

How to download the PDF version on the Department of Education’s FAFSA website (www.fafsa.ed.gov). The copy of a paper FAFSA can be availed by calling 1 800 4-FED-AID (1 800 433-3243). The forms for the year (let us suppose 2016) in which one intends to take admission is available after mid/late December of previous year (2015), or early January of the same year (2016).

Remember to specify which year’s form you need.

**While majority of the parents and students go for the online version of the FAFSA, still we realize that there are some of you who would want to go for the Yellow and Purple paper version; or the PDF version. The FOTW utilizes the “skip logic”- which means certain questions won’t be asked to you based on your previous answers about similar questions. For example, if you choose not to fill the student’s tax return, then all other questions regarding it will be omitted in the following sections.

Keeping in mind all the readers who may or may not use the Yellow and Purple paper version of the FAFSA, we will go through all the questions on the paper version of the FAFSA in details for the clarity. Until you choose to use the skip logic on the FOTW, all the questions in all the three versions of the FAFSA will be same.

DEADLINES

The Financial Aid are given on the first come, first serve basis. So, we can say that missing your financial aid deadline is worse than missing your mortgage payment, because the bank may give you another chance, but the college may not even consider looking at your form. Sending the form a few weeks earlier may do no good to you, but sending it a day later than the deadline can take away the aid you were eligible for. The schools pile up all the forms they receive, till the deadline, and process them individually until the entire first batch has been given the aid. If, there is any aid left, those are given to the late submitters on a rolling basis.

CollageAdmission DeadlineWhich standardized need analysis forms (FAFSA PROFILE) are required? When are they due at the processorIs there any individual aid form required?
If so, When?
Are income tax returns required? Why? What year(s)?Any other forms required?(Noncustodial, PROFILE, business/farm supplement etc.) When are they due?Name of contact FAO at college & Phone Number

You can follow the above table to keep a track of every form you need to fill along with their deadlines, and other important details.

In almost all the cases, you will have to fill the FAFSA before the PROFILE. The deadline for FAFSA is somewhere near mid-January (though it may vary), and you cannot start filling it until after January 1.

Whereas you can choose to fill the PROFILE after you register for it, and the deadline always comes after the FAFSA deadline. But in some cases, the college requires you to fill the FAFSA earlier than the FAFSA.

  • Some state aid programs may have an earlier deadline, that come before priority deadlines, set by the particular school for the FAFSA, PROFILE and/or their own aid form.
  • In case of the tax return, filing the financial aid form, when you are approaching the deadline can prove to be profitable. The forms that are received earlier can be scrutinized well, and the FAO will be able to examine the form very closely, and come up with ideas of decreasing the aid.

But if you file the form closer to the deadline, then the schools won’t be able to get extra time to come up with tricky and embarrassing questions. Further, until and unless you have not crossed the deadline, the date on which you send the form doesn’t affect your aid.

There are three types of financial aid deadlines:

  1. The date by which one has to postmark and mail the application to the school, or state agency. You are required to send the form through a certified mail, return receipt requested, and make sure the postal worker shows you the postmark on the envelope, before you leave the post office.
  2. After you send the form, the need analysis company must receive, and date stamp it by a particular deadline.

    When you go through this process, you must calculate the time by which the form will reach the need analysis company. If you send the form through mail within two weeks of the deadline, then you should opt for the U.S. Postal Service’s Express mail Service and request a return receipt. The processor is somewhat located in a remote location, so it takes two business days for the form to be delivered via Express Mail.

  3. The date by which the processed standardized application must be received by the school or state agency.
    • Try to carry a four-week window for the total process. For example, if the deadline is March 1, then send the form (via certified mail, return receipt requested) to the need analysis company February 1.
  • The first two deadlines remain same, even for the online filers. The last minute filers should keep in mind that the processors may be located in an earlier time zone, which may affect the official receipt/transmission date for your form (since it will be considered received on the date you transmit it). If your form needs to be processed within a certain date, then you must give 2 to 3 weeks processing time.
  • You should consider your final deadline to be the one, by which the standardized need analysis form must have been received by the need analysis company. The company sends the number to all the schools you have designated for, once it has them.
  • You should not get into the illusion mentioned in the FAFSA, which says that you have time until late June of next year (end of the academic year for which you want aid) to fill out the form. What they mean from this is, you can get aid till June next year, only if the college is left with any more aid. And, our experience says that it never happens.
  • Many colleges want your financial aid form filed by February 1 of the prior academic year. Few selective private colleges want the PROFILE information as early as January 1, or January 15 for early decision and early action.
  • As mentioned earlier, some colleges may have their own standardized form to be filled out within a certain deadline. The best way to keep a track of the deadlines is by reading each college’s bulletin carefully. After keeping track you can use a deadline chart as we had shown earlier.
  • The Common Admissions Application program has over 400 colleges under it. The benefit of the program is that you can fill out one admission form, and use it to apply to any of the members (Colleges) of the program. Unfortunately, most of the schools have their own supplemental financial aid applications, with differing deadlines. So, if the college’s website doesn’t have information about the admission packets, then you must request to each college individually for the information. The admission packets contain individual financial aid forms, filing requirements, and deadline information.
  • Some Ivy League colleges have extensive financial aid forms of their own. The forms may seem to be very daunting, but as you move ahead, you will find that the questions are repetitive, and are meant only to get detailed information to the questions already asked on the FAFSA and PROFILE forms. The forms are designed to check inconsistencies in answers, one has previously written in other forms.

Important points to remember while filling the FAFSA

Before you start to fill up the form (any version), try to fill a duplicate copy of the version, as many times as you can, keep filling the form until you completely satisfied and convinced about the entries made.

Suppose, you are filling the paper version, then before writing a single word on it, make a photocopy of the form, then use the photocopy to write down your answers, and after you have come up with a well filled up form, start with the blue and the purple FAFSA form or the PDF version of the FAFSA.

The FAO is only going to accept the original versions. Don’t forget to make yet another photocopy of the filled paper version of the form, and keep it in a safe place.

Similarly, if you are filling the form online, then worksheet copy of the form should be filled, before you start giving your responses online.

For FAFSA, you could either take a print of the worksheet version of the form, that is provided online, or you could simply work on a paper version of the form. For the PROFILE you can take a print of the worksheet copy provided by the processor.

Don’t just totally rely upon your accountant for all your financial records, at least for the next four years. You will have to be responsible with all your conceivable relevant documents, and make a photocopy of them all.

Following are the rules that you need to follow, while filling out the forms:

  1. Read all the instructions very carefully. The instruction can sometimes be sketchy and misleading, but you should try to understand them carefully
  2. Make sure you use proper writing implement while completing the form. If you use the wrong writing implement, your need analysis will be delayed until the need analysis experts return your original form, and then you will have to send them a corrected form.
  3. No matter if it is your first time or fourth time, you should follow the instructions carefully, as the rules keep on changing from year to year. There may be a case where the FAO decides, and asks you to use a pencil instead of a pen. If you avoid reading instructions, then it may work against you.
  4. Complete your response area properly. If they want you to color the response area in dark, then you should not use tick marks to show your response.
  5. Writing in the margins are prohibited
  6. You should be exact with the numbers you quote. You cannot give ranges such as $700-800, rather it should be $750. Don’t include Cents or decimals

**Prior to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013, the Defence of marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, there were some new guidelines issued in the interest of how the students’ parents’ information is required to be reported on the FAFSA. As per the change, information from both the parents have to be reported on the FAFSA, even if the biological and/or adopted parents of the students are unmarried, and live together. Previously this information had to be stated in the FAFSA, only when the parents who were unmarried and living together, lived in a common law marriage state, and were considered to have a common law marriage.

The change has also changed the way same-sex marriage was seen. Beginning with December 2013, same sex marriage will also be considered to be a marriage, provided the couple was legally married in a state or other jurisdiction (i.e. A foreign country). It does not matter where the couple resides or where the student is going to attend the college.

Both the above mentioned points have to be taken into consideration while filling the FAFSA, and questions have to be answered accordingly.
Until and unless it has been specifically mentioned in the instructions, do not skip any question. If you leave any section blank on the PDF or paper version, then the processor will not go ahead with your form, and revert it back to you to make the further corrections.

For ex: – if you have not got any business, then put down “0” for any values related to a business. You cannot leave it black, or skip the question.

FAFSA4CASTER

The FAFSA4CASTER is an online tool that helps you predict your estimated family contribution (EFC) by using certain financial details. One can use the FAFSA4CASTER online at fafsa4caster.ed.gov. The fact that makes this tool so popular among the families and financial aid advisors is that, you can very easily get an estimate of the EFC that you will be liable to pay for the college. Interestingly, the time taken for getting the estimate is as short as 30 minutes.

In order to predict your EFC, you will need almost all the financial details of your family. So, we recommend you to start by sitting down and talking to your parents about paying for the college. We understand that talking about money is very awkward, and it gets more awkward when you have to ask your parents about their income and asset values. Anyhow, you have to do it one day, so it is better to talk to them about it as early as possible.

Since, all the decisions regarding the college are related to your life, it is your responsibility to take the charge and explain everything to your parents. Your chances of receiving a good amount of merit-aid and need-based aid increases, if you are among the top 25 percent of the college’s incoming class. Thus, when your parents inquire you about the type of college you want to study in, you should responsibly say that you want to study in the college, where you come under the top 25 percent of the class.

How to use FAFSA4CASTER to predict your EFC?

To use the FAFSA4CASTER, you need to visit the website fafsa4caster.ed.gov, where your parents will be asked to input their financial information. Filling out the FFAFSA4CATSER is similar to filing a dummy FAFSA form, and it will not take you more than 30 minutes to get the results. The FAFSA4CASTER does not save any information, and does not share it with anyone. The tool provides you with an additional facility of comparing the cost of attendance of different colleges, which includes all the private and public colleges in and out of state. At the bottom of the page, you will find a submit option. Clicking on the SUBMIT option will redirect you to a summary page, which will have information regarding your EFC. This is the most important information, and you need to save it. You must remember that the estimate of the aid provided by the FAFSA4CATSTER only includes the federal aid. It does not signify the amount of merit-based or need-based aid you can receive from the college or the grants from your home state.

Keep in mind that your Estimated Family contribution (EFC) will remain the same, no matter which college you decide to attend. As we have already said, your chance of receiving a satisfactory amount of financial aid increases, if you are among the top 25 percent of the applicants. So, while you are researching on the colleges, you should form a different list, where you write down only those colleges in which you stand among the top 25 percent of the incoming class.

You can use the following formula to figure out the amount, that your family will be liable to pay for the college:

College’s sticker price or Cost of Attendance (COA) —EFC = The amount of aid you need

Calculating Your EFC with FAFSA4CASTER (For Blended Families)

Divorced or blended families have much confusion, and difficulty while filing the FAFSA. It can be so much beneficial, if the families try to sort out the difficulties before filing the FAFSA. FAFSA4CASTER can be the right tool, that will help you determine and predict your financial affordability in the future.

Irrespective of who the legal parent of the student is, only the custodial parents are liable to file the FAFSA for the student. If there is a dispute going on in the family or the student’s parents are divorced, then we recommend both the parents to individually use the FAFSA4CASTER, and find out their individual EFC. Later, they can come to a mutual solution by splitting the cost of the lower EFC.

If the child plans to go to a school, that requires the PROFILE form, then both the parents will have to submit their financial information anyway. Therefore, if you decide to help your child mutually, it can prove to be beneficial in a longer run.

The FAFSA4CASTER is a great way to calculate an estimate of the financial burden, that the families will have to bear for their child’s education. Also, the divorced or blended families can avoid any kind of confusion during the FAFSA, by pre-determining their EFC using the FAFSA4CASTER.

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