7 Common FAFSA Mistakes

FAFSA help

1.      Not Completing the FAFSA

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes to long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter.” It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA you are missing out on the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes most people 23 minutes to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid

2.      Not Being Prepared

The online FAFSA has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. We’ve added skip logic, so you only see questions that are applicable to you. There is also an option to import your tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA application. But, the key to making the FAFSA simple is being prepared. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by gathering everything you need to complete the FAFSA before you start the application

3.      Not Reading Carefully

You’re on winter break and probably enjoying a vacation from reading for a couple weeks. I get it. But when it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each question carefully. Too many students see delays in their financial aid for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

Don’t rush through these questions:

  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how you or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number.
  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Income tax is not the same as income. It is the amount of tax that you (and if married, your spouse) paid on your income earned from work. Your income tax amount should not be the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). Where you find the amount of your income tax depends on which IRS form you filed.
  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.

4.      Inputting Incorrect Information

The FAFSA is an official government form. You must enter your information as it appears on official government documents like your birth certificate and social security card. Examples:

  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on official government documents. No nicknames.
  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross check your social security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have a SSN, follow these instructions.

5.      Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide your parent(s) information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether or not you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

6.      Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering in the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This year, the tool will launch on February 2, 2014. In most cases, your information will be available from the IRS two weeks after you file. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent errors on your FAFSA and avoid any processing delays.

Note: If you used income estimates to file your FAFSA early, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your FAFSA two weeks after you file your 2013 taxes.

7.      Not Signing the FAFSA

So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their PIN and submit it. This happens for many reasons, maybe they forgot their PIN, or their parent isn’t with them to sign with the parent PIN, so the FAFSA is left unsubmitted. Don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t have or don’t know your PIN, apply for one. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

119 Comments

  1. How do you go by using the IRS retrieval? How do you know if you are eligible?

  2. One problem with the FAFSA I saw. You cannot report your parents as dead. My dad died in 1996, mom in 2003 (I remember the space shuttle Columbia disintegrating that weekend when I came up to see her 48 hours before she passed). I simply skipped the parental data.

    At 43 and alone, there should be no doubt that I am independent.

    • If you are age 24 or older, you do not need to input parental information. This goes back to the point of reading carefully. The set of questions that determine dependency begins by asking if you were born before a certain date, thus determining if you are over the age of dependency for federal financial aid purposes.

  3. Why in the world are so many parents worrying about and shouldering the responsibility of education, which belongs to your child. Encourage continuing education from the earliest age, but inform your children, they need to figure out how to make it happen, by WORKING!l Make sure they know what college costs way before they start high school…7th or8th grade would be good to start. Explain why it is important for them to save for this goal and encourage they to spend as much time working part time jobs as they do playing sports! We did this for our daughter and she headed off to college with a small nest egg. We surprised her with paying the tuition, but only after she had judiciously selected an affordable college which she thought she was going to have to pay for herself, and thus selected very carefully. Any “fun” things she wanted to do during college were taken care of by her own nest egg and guess what? She was extremely careful how she spent it…no Star Bucks lattes! Happy to say she is now 2 years post graduation, working full time in a respectable job with security and growth opportunity, enrolled pursuing her Masters and most important of all is thankful for what she has, a job. She at 23 has no illusions about what it takes to be successful, hard work. The last bit of advice shared by a professor of mine years ago…don’t rush out and buy a new car right after graduation, keep debt to a minimum and live below your means. If you don’t have the money to pay for it, don’t buy it, particularly on credit. It can wait. Parents you are their first and most influential teacher. Teach them well for life and that begins with being honest about what you want and need them to do to cover their college costs. You and they will always be in a losing position, if they are saddled with debt. Jobs are no longer a guarantee so debt adds nothing to their future success or your retirement security.

    • Congratulations on your daughter. In their lifetimes, my parents were big on saving and small on spending. I can assure you that in general even with education (vastly more than your daughter) and experience social mobility is a blasted roller coaster. Disability status may explain a lot of this. As for a car… my mother’s old 1998 Cavalier is doing fine, and I intend to drive it into the ground. A car is a tool not a trophy.

    • While I agree with you on the principle of teaching children for life and reality and that there are correct and wrong ways to approach college, I feel that your recommendation is out of touch with reality. It is important to be smart in spending, but what you say is far-fetched. In order to work a legal part-time job, you must be 16. Most students enter college at the age of 18. Say you work 15 hours per week in high school, by the time you enter college, you will have about $12,500 (if you never spent a dime of that money or took a sick day). That is not even enough to cover a single year of tuition at a UC school, let alone a private university. Unless you are going to a community college (which can never match the potential or opportunity of a prestigious Ivy League school or similar), there is practically no way to come out debt free without parental contribution. Anyone who says the current generation is lazy or entitled is full of it. College tuition has skyrocketed–UCLA used to be under $1000 a year, but is now close to $15000 annually (without housing) and that is considered cheap compared to $40000 at other schools. Almost 75% of students have a job, many of which are unpaid internships (which are quite frankly illegal but required to get a decent job after graduation). Inflation continues to rise but wages remain stagnate. Every year, funding to schools gets slashed. The current generation is not acting entitled, they want a fair chance that the older generations had. After all, when did the previous generation have to work for free just for “experience” for an entry-level job, or pay a quarter of million for their bachelors degree? No one is cutting social security, but education–might as well trim that down. So please do not give me the argument that young people are lazy or want too much.

    • Carol, well done. my wife and I set college expectations for our daughter at the age of 2-3 years old. She could say college before she knew what college was about. We started her college fund before she was born. While our family has only one wage earner we were able to completely fund her Ivy League education so she will not have any college debt. Our daughter did her part by taking heavy class loads, not changing her major so that she could register as a part time student for her final semester. She is on track to get her degree in May 2014. She is applying to graduate school with the understanding that she will be responsible for the cost with some assistance from her parents. She worked throughout her college experience and managed her fund will little help from Dad , for her entertainment costs.
      I can tell how proud of your daughter’s accomplishments as it reflects your parenting and love.

    • Carol,
      you are a bit mis-informed by how the process works! I you decide that a private school is the right choice for you child, usually $45K to $60K per YEAR!, then that is an unattainable number for any child, no matter how many burgers they flip or lattes the skip. The process is that the Schools hold the parents income over their heads for how much the child can afford, so I if you are upper/middle income America, guess what? they say you can foot the entire cost! THUS… the child is required to get parental help… unless of course you choose a community college, which was not an option as my child was top in he high school class. I refer to college tuition as “A TAX, ASSESSED ON THOSE THAT THE SCHOOL AND THE GOVERNMENT DECIDE CAN AFFORD IT”, because there are many, many lower income kids going to school with very little out of pocket costs, if they can get in and the can fill out the required paperwork (e.g FAFSA) where this article all started. Controlling the DEBT the child builds up is the parents job to give solid advice on, this is yet another BIG topic here… for another day :).

  4. My simple recommendation is to keep an education binder which contains FAFSA PINS
    (student and parent), housing leases, tuition payments, etc, all in one place. It is also helpful to keep a list of FAFSA questions so that all required information can be obtained prior to filling out the form online.

  5. To some peope, who wonder why their FAFSA calculated contribution seems so large even with relatively low incomes, THE FAFSA PENALIZES YOU FOR SAVING FOR COLLEGE. It pays attention to ASSETS more than income. So if you spent your child’s childhood going on fancy vacations, blowing money on nice dinners out, etc., and have relatively little savings, then you will be provided with more aid than someone else who had the same income over the whole time their child was growing up but lived on less and saved money for college.

    Also, one of the suggestions is about getting parents’ information, even if you are essentially self-supporting. This is the REAL problem with the FAFSA. It may work half-way decently for middle class families, but think of the truly impoverished, who really need the aid even more than anyone else. Often their families are hostile to education, their parents are completely absent from their lives, or refuse to be cooperative. These are the people who can’t get any aid at all.

    • John,

      Unfortunate, but true – to a degree. Once you are 25, you are independent. Your parent/s’ income won’t matter. If you are low-income enough, the numbers will work in your favor – assuming your parents will cooperate. When I was younger my parents did not see the value in my going to school and would not provide any financial information. Since I was still living at home, I had no way around this problem and could not attend school (I didn’t earn enough to pay for it). Had I moved out, after a year I could have argued the independent status issue – it doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. Otherwise, you just have to put it on hold until you’re 25, when a new set of rules kicks in.

      Best of luck.

    • Different Linda than previously commented.

      I am a widow with 2 sons in college and a sophomore in HS., FAFSA has worked very well for us. I have to contribute about $10,000 for each child at the moment (I have two food server jobs- it’s respectable but certainly not middle class), it might change when one is in law school and the other two in 4 year institutions. The college students each work about 15 hours a week to provide their own pocket money and one lives at home. I was very worried that a family tragedy took their college savings, but between starting at a community college, transferring to a UC school and by the grace of God, excellent grades, we are making it work. There are also so many private scholarships that can be found with a little research and a few essays. They may only be $500-$1000 each, but to an 18/20 year old- that is a lot of cha ching!

  6. My friend, a banker, is an astute consumer of financial services. He insists that 529 college savings funds are used against families in student aid formulas. His sad conclusion: You are penalized for saving for college, so don’t show any assets or wealth you don’t have to. It will be used against you.

  7. My daughter wants to go to college. I finally got a job in January after 3 years being unemployed and trying to do some temp work. We may get a small amount of money thru FASFA for her 1st year of college but then what? Next year I will be making more money, so then no more help? We have huge bills that we can’t pay already – no heat – the house is falling apart, car troubles, etc. Will she have to drop out of college next year because there will be no more money? So not fair. She tries so hard. These kids can’t get anywhere because they have huge loans that they have to pay for many years to come and who’s to say they will be able to get a job? I don’t get it.

    • Linda – Unless you’re going to make a really solid salary, your daughter will probably be eligible for Pell grants and work-study. She can also work summers and part-time during the school year to get money for her expenses during the school year. Unless she is planning on a school way beyond your means, they should be able to put a package together for her that will work. If she’s a good enough scholar, even in those cases the school may have scholarships/grants for her. Some of the private schools are extremely generous towards the low-income and are actually having trouble finding good quality scholars in those income brackets. If you are of an under-represented ethnicity, her desirability at many schools (including some publicly funded ones) will skyrocket and they will bend over backwards to help her attend. If none of that applies – non-minority or not a stellar scholar – she needs to do some serious legwork to find funding without you having to have your hair go gray over it.

      Having been out of school for 20 years and still with huge loans to pay back, I would advise doing ~everything~ she can to avoid the loans – and especially unsubsidized ones, as they start accruing interest almost immediately. Worst case there again, if she takes them out and can’t pay them back because she drops out or the work she finds later is at a low wage, she’ll end up having about 15% of her pay garnished until they are paid unless she goes one of the special repayment routes . Unfortunately, the interest will continue, so it’s best to not even go that route. If you co-sign, they will come after you in perpetuity.

      If your daughter can go to a 2 year community college (usually much cheaper) locally and then transfer, that will save a lot of money. If she can live at home while going to school, that also will help. Worst case, she can work for a few years and save up. When she hits 25 she would be considered an independent student and your income would not count. That is what my child did. (She earned more temping than her friends did with their degrees, plus she already has at least a short resume that shows she is familiar with the world of work – which, arguably, is worth more than her degree will be after a couple of years.) When she saved up a nest-egg, she went back to school. Her expected contribution is about $4,500 a year towards a full tuition/room/board budget of about $30K a year. The school gave her Pell and grants such that she would be expected to take out student loans of about $10K a year. Note that the school covered all tuition, fees, books, and incidentals. The $10K would be towards room and board. (If she’d gone all four/five yearsand lived on campus, she’d have graduated with $40-50K in student debt as an undergraduate. I really do think that is a HORRIBLE idea.)

      She went to a community college, so she only has two or (realistically) possibly three years left at the 4 year school. She works over the summer, and the rest I “contribute” by letting her live at home rent-free and covering her meals. I do not claim her as a tax dependent. Unfortunately, if she were to live in a dorm she’d have had to take out the loans to attend.. I have to say again – I REALLY advise against large loans at the undergrad level as an undergrad degree, unless it’s in a high-demand field, really isn’t worth much. An advanced degree ~could~ be worth the loans – but, again, your daughter should check the market before she invests in it. Once she signs, those loans are with her, for all intents, for life.

      It’s nice for the kids to get the experience of living in the dorms, etc., but if she can’t afford it, she’ll have to find another way. The day of any smart kid who applied themselves going to college and then being almost assured a good job ended about 40 years ago. Now it’s more of a middle-class finishing school, but your daughter could certainly use it as a stepping-stone to better things if she plans carefully and has some luck.

      If she must go to school now (and I know how hard it is to tell a kid to wait while their friends go off to school), you should know that the financial aid people do not consider consumer debt (which is voluntarily taken on) in looking at what a family can afford to pay, but they will consider events related to medical care, recovering from a disaster, etc., and have some discretion. Worst case, if you really want her to be able to go and find no other way, declare bankruptcy to get out from under your bills, move into a cheaper apartment, grit your teeth through it, and understand that it’s a temporary situation.

      One additional thing that may be of use to your daughter. If she does have to take out loans, if she works in a public sector job that doesn’t pay particularly well – teaching, working for an educational institution, non-profit, or the government, etc. – there is a public service loan forgiveness program that sets payments based on her income. If she makes the payments for ten years (assuming she remains in that line of work), they write the loans off with no tax consequences. There are also write-off programs, separate from that program, for teachers. I suggest that your daughter step up to the plate and start doing more of the research and you step back and let her learn how to do it. It will do her a world of good.

      Best of luck.

  8. FAFSA really works for the middle class if you have more than one child going to college at the same time. For us, with one child in college, our parental contribution was $40,000. But, with two kids in college, parental contribution for each kid is now $20,000. So…if a school costs over 20,000 then we are able to get work study and better loans if we wanted them.

    We have a total of 6 kids and my plan of getting them all through college is to have the house paid off as soon as possible. Well, we are 4 years away (I am 46).

    What will hit us hard is that our 2nd kid goes to UC San Diego (he is a Freshman but is technically a Sophomore since he brought in 36 A.P. units) and wants to go to medical school. Medical school adds $20,000 to the tuition. So…with our $3200 mortgage payment right now….it will turn into a college payment…

    I wanted 6 kids before I got married….I also didn’t get married until my wife graduated from college…I knew I will have college payments….we were lucky enough to both have jobs (engineer and teacher)….our gift to our kids is to have no loans…hopefully we get something to help us….but if we don’t….that just means less times eating out.

  9. First time I filled out the FAFSA, I nearly threw up on my keyboard. We are middle class Americans. My husband teaches at a community college (and makes LESS than the secondary public school teachers) and I am employed full time. We pay our bills and live within our means. I’m thinking that I’ll plug in the info and see that we qualify for some kind of financial aid. WRONG! Put in the info (basically how much is your AGI and how much do you owe on your house). Agree totally with the previous poster that they do not take into account living expenses. Anyway…at the end of the form, they tell me that my expected family contribution is $30,000+ !!!! And then they offer me a loan. Uhm…if you think that I can afford to contribute $30,000 to my child’s education (for one year!), why are you offering me a loan?? That obviously means I can’t afford $30,000! I HATE the FAFSA, but it is a necessary evil.

    • There are some schools that cost $35,000 a year…thus you might be able to get work study and/or loans that cover that $5,000…better than nothing.

  10. It really just depends on your financial situation whether it’s worthwhile or not. When my oldest applied for college two years ago, we dutifully filled out the FAFSA and CSS profile. It was a lot of work. We didn’t qualify for any type of financial aid at any college where she was accepted, but were offered a Parent Plus loan at some schools. Thus we felt our State University (University of Connecticut) offered the best value for our family. For families in our financial situation (well to do, but by no means rich) private schools would prove devastating to our family finances. It would cost us over $600,000 out of our pocket to send all three of our children to pricey private schools for four years. It is a no brainer for us to chose our lower cost state University which our second child will also attend this fall. We agree with those who say that private schools are only for the rich or the poor…they certainly aren’t for us.

    • Laura, Consider yourself lucky you live in a place with a state school system. We are residents of the District of Columbia and have no choice but to send our child to private university. The $10K credit from the TAG program comes nowhere near covering the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates.

      • Legal District of Columbia residents are eligible to attend ANY state college at ‘in-state’ tuition rates.

  11. Not sure if this has been mentioned, but if you need to take out loans to help pay for your child – do not take out the loans in your name. The loans need to be taken out by the student for a couple reasons 1. When a student knows he is responsible for paying the loan back he/she will be more inclined to study harder, keep grades up and apply for merit scholarships throughout their 4 years. 2. There are federal loan forgiveness programs out there that many students will qualify for – and some employers use loan payback as a hiring tool. However, they aren’t going to forgive a parent loan, only the student’s loans. I set a small limit on what I borrowed in my name to help my son, after that the deal is that when he graduates, I will “help” payback his loans, but if he doesn’t graduate – that deal is off the table.

  12. If kids go to a local school so they can still live at home, it will save a ton of money and reduce the need for school loans. If living at school and if living in the dorms (residence halls), make a name for yourself in the dorms by helping out, arranging events, etc. In doing so, you can help set yourself up for a job working in the dorms, often providing free room and board (often the most expensive part of a college education).

    I did it when I was in college as did my wife. I also worked internships. My parents were not involved in my schooling, I filled out my applications, paid my own bills and kept my grades to myself. Neither I nor my parents attended my college graduation. My parents did pay for two new rear tires on my car once. I never applied for a loan until my final year of law school.

    My oldest child graduated college last year, owning $29k in student loans. She came back home for her final three years of college to keep total cost down. She now wants to get rid of that college debt and has already paid it down to half.

    My youngest is a freshman in college and she has student loans. She had worked two jobs while in high school, and does so on weekends and breaks from college. She saved most of her babysitting money growing up. As a result, she had over $12k cash saved up before she started school. She has now been interviewed to work in the dorms, just like my wife and I did thirty years ago.

    I might help my daughter with books, etc., but I feel that if a kid has to work to pay their college expenses, they take it more seriously. She is studing finance and ecomonics and is a dean’s list kid.

    My point with all of this is that college is about choices, not just at the time of college, but years before. My kids understood that we value education and value hard work. They can elect to blow their childhood money on the latest toy, video game, or clothes or they can get in a habit of putting at least half of everything they earn or receive for birthdays, in the bank.

    They can also get take job that are less than desirable or cool as long as it brings in money. From the time my kids were tiny, if they got money from someone at Christmas or B-day, I required they put at least half in their bank account. As they worked at baby sitting and then formal jobs, I did the same. Saving became second nature for them. It was very common that my kid would bring me down five payroll checks she was holding on to and ask me to deposit all of them.

    Students and parents, I know that paying for college can seem like a giant task. It may not be easy, and it may take extra time or require staying close to home. However, a college education is very possible if you can benefit from any of the tips I provided. I did it, my wife did it and now my kids. None of us came from money, and had do it on our own, and grew to appreciate that fact. You can do it as well. Best wishes.

    • I completely agree with everything this man says and did. I completed my college education the same way in many regards. My parents were ready and had money set aside to pay for college for me. Instead, at age 18 I enrolled in a local community college for 2 semesters and discovered I had no idea what I wanted to study. I joined the Navy, gave them four good years and they gave me the GI bill which I then went to University on Uncles dime and my part time work. Like the correspondent, I didn’t ask for money from my parents except for a major car repair once. It feels good to say ‘Yeah I paid my way through college’. I am now a reasonably successful businessman with a wife and two kids. One through college and serving in the Air Force, the other a senior in college with student debt of $15,000 and a highly compensated job in engineering when he graduates. I doubt he’ll need help paying off his loans.

    • Actually, more and more schools now require children to live on campus as entering freshmen – the students don’t get a choice. Of course, it is just another way for the colleges at issue to try to soak yet more money out of families that already can’t afford the tuition.

  13. Go to a community college for the first 2 years to help defray costs then transfer to a University that has a articulation agreement with the community college, you will be taking the same same general education that the university offers, plus you can raise your gpa and earn an associate degree, and graduate with a bachelors from the university you attend.

    • You are so right. I went to a community college at the same time my husband was attending a pricey university in the same city (his work was paying for his). We ended up using the exact same textbook on more than one course, and also had some of the same profs.
      I asked my profs who also worked at the university if they changed their lesson plans when they went from there to the community college and they laughed and said of course not. I was getting the same education for a fraction of the cost!

    • While this idea may seem like a good approach, it will most likely hurt you in the long run depending on the difficulty of your degree. Most students boost their GPAs with higher grades from the “easier” classes that are generally taken during the first two years. Most universities accept the credit of the classes taken at community colleges, but they will NOT accept the grades. I was turned down for admittance for a secondary degree solely because of the GPA listed by the University, and they refused to consider the merit of the grades taken at the community college. This is a bad, bad idea.

        • Fortunately after reading other advice like yours, I did the opposite. I took my history, English etc. at the community college where the standards are lower and skated by with a C because it couldn’t help/hurt me. This gave me more time to work at a job and save up for the higher cost of the University tuition. I also didn’t take any pre-engineering type classes at the CC for my major in engineering. I saw that my classmates who did were very underprepared.

          • No pre-engineering classes at CC? It would seem to make the transition to an engineering major difficult, unless your definition of pre-engineering does not include the appropriate math and science classes.

            According paperwork my daughter got from UC Berkeley, which assigns students to schools based on their applications, it is difficult to transition into engineering at the beginning of a four year program, let alone after two years. I note my daughter inquired about it, and that for hard core STEM students like her, it was no big deal.

            So, was your engineering school really lightweight, or did it take extra time at the higher tuition, or is your definition of pre-engineering overly restrictive?

  14. I have filled out many FAFSA forms over the years–for myself and my four children. The process is immensely easier now than in previous years. My children applied to, and were accepted at many, many colleges. There were differences in the financial aid packages that were offered at the various schools–sometimes significant differences–mostly in the amount of school-based scholarships or school-based grants. Some gave a lot (usually based on high-school performance), some gave little, some none. The fact is very few students actually qualify for government grants. Most will qualify for government student loans. But the limits on those loans don’t begin to cover the costs at even a state school. They are still a good deal for most students. Plus loans are easy to qualify for and are the parent(s)’ responsibility if they are applied for and taken. They are not just “given” without knowledge. Unless you are prepared to write a check yourself, none of the other options will come your way if you don’t file the FAFSA. Some people have posted about getting private loans without filing a FAFSA. That is a non-preferred way to finance: in some cases costs more than the Parent Plus loans. Yes, for a few people, there could be ways to find ways to finance w/o involving use of the FAFSA, but if you do that you are basically slamming the door on school-based money that your child could qualify for. You have no way of knowing until you file the FAFSA, apply to a school, get accepted, and receive the financial aid package. Filing the FAFSA obligates you for nothing, it just opens the door for POSSIBLE financing of an education. After filing approximately 24 FAFSAs over the years, I highly recommend going that route.

    • Can you clarify your statement re: student loans “loans are easy to qualify for and are the parent(s)’ responsibility if they are applied for and taken”. If I’m readying this correctly, students can take out a loan to pay for college and the parent is responsible for paying it back? That does not sound right to me.

      • I was a dependent child who got student loans and my parent was never dunned for them when I was late. Either she means some other type of loan or she is mistaken.

      • They are describing the Parent Plus loan, which is an federal loan that parents can apply for to help pay for college. If the parent takes out this type of loan, the parent is responsible for repayment. It is not a student loan.

        • Most students do not have a sufficient credit rating to qualify for loans without a co-signer. A parent as a co-signer is “on the hook” should the student default.

  15. I wish they would have put as one of the first suggestions to do your taxes first. Once you complete your taxes you can populate them into your FASFA. I did all of it (my taxes and FAFSA) in about an hour. The next day the University of Pittsburgh sent me an e-mail saying that they had received everything and everything was accepted, and then off I went with the rest of my day. It just saves so much time to do your taxes first, then your FASFA, trust me. Oh, and I didn’t have to wait two weeks to do it either. As long as you do your taxes and FASFA online, you shouldn’t have any problems.

    • You need to know how your state gives out state money. My state gives state funding on a first come basis. My son’s freshman year I waited until mid-February (after I filed my taxes) to submit the FAFSA – by then the state money was gone. The his soph and junior years I filed the FAFSA on Jan 2 and he received $1000 per semester each year from our state. IMO it is best to fill out the FAFSA to the best of your ability ASAP (use previous years tax return if close), then after you have your taxes done, use the IRS retrieval tool to import your corrected information.

  16. Filling out the FAFSA can have very negative impact for those who will not qualify. Information from the FAFSA may be used to (improperly) determine eligibility for other things such as which students get campus jobs, and if the parents are perceived as “too wealthy” by the university the job may go to someone deemed more needy.
    .
    But the worse mis-use of FAFSA may be in admission. Public (state) universities have started to reject eligible students they perceive as being able to afford (through the parents) out-of-state tuition in another state, in favor of (potentially less qualified) out-of-state applicants who can pay the out-of-state tuition.
    .
    This essentially denies qualified students who have parents that have contributed state taxes the earned priviledge of sending their students to the state university at in-state rates. Instead, they will have to pay three to five times as much to send their child to a private university, or pay out of state elsewhere.
    .
    And this happened to us. Our child had a university-independent half scholarship and excellent grades, was denied admission to the nearby state university, but was granted admission to many universities much higher rated than our state’s – but must pay the higher tuition. Meanwhile, our state university admitted to accepting a much higher rate of lesser qualified students from other states to offset the decreasing state subsidies (after also raising tuition in a fashion that was determined to have tuition raises more than offsetting loss of subsidies). I was told by a colleague at the college (I am on staff at another) that, had we not filled out FAFSA, we might have not been on their radar.
    .
    So my advice to filers: if it is clear you won’t qualify, don’t make things worse by telling the university things that will only cost you money and cause you problems later. It is the university that sees this and makes the assessments, and if the guidelines say you won’t get aid, then don’t file. Anyone who fails to qualify for aid can usually get better loan deals from their credit union than through the government loan system. No FAFSA required.

    • With all due respect, Chris, that’s not actually how admissions decisions are made. Yes, some public institutions want to generate more revenue by encouraging out-of-state applicants, but that has nothing to do with whether or not you filed the FAFSA. If the result of your filing is a high Expected Family Contribution number, why would a university NOT want you, i.e. you’re what they call “full pay” so they don’t need to offer you any aid?

      Even if you are wealthy, it makes sense to file because many colleges use the FAFSA in determining not only need-based aid but grant aid as well. If you don’t file, you may lose out on opportunities for automatic scholarships.

      I don’t doubt that you can find better ways to finance an education than what the government may offer, but I can’t think of any negative repercussions. As to on-campus jobs, many of those are set aside for recipients of the federal work-study program, which is determined by need. A student may not qualify for those jobs if competing with a work-study eligible student, but filing or not filing has nothing to do with that. If you file and don’t qualify for work-study, you don’t get the job. If you don’t file, then you also don’t quality for work-study and don’t get the job. It’s the same result.

      • Many states use lottery funds to give scholarships to all students – including the rich. Filling out the FAFSA is required to be eligible to receive those funds.

  17. Anyone give ANY thought to explaining what FAFSA stands for? It’s journalism 101 – the old who, what, when, why, where thing? Very, very sloppy – but it’s the government and what else do we expect?

    • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
      Pretty easy to find out what it stands for, and not really a fault of the blogger, or the government. Try to calm down.

      • With technology today all you have to do is type of FAFSA. If you plan to go to school then you have to heard it. It’s all over the place. On the news, radio, schools, everywhere. I agree they need to focus on the FAFSA and it mean this
        Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

      • I agree with EB. In this world it is proper to spell out an acronym the first time it is used so everyone knows what you are talking about. We shouldn’t have to go look it up. It was used about 15 times with no explanation of what it is. That is just plain lazy and sloppy.

  18. Alternate the names of parents on the (2) lines for (2) parents names required from the lender for Parent Plus Loans. I always put my name first because I was the major wage earner. When my husband died, according to the loan, 1/2 of the loan should be eliminated because 1 of the parents died. Not true. The lender told me that because my name was listed on the first line, I was the primary borrower, even though the signature line only listed “parent name” not primary and secondary borrower. Therefore I was responsible for the entire loan. So alternate your names; and if 1 of the parents is sick with a possible life threatening illness, then put that parent’s name first.

  19. It all sounded so wonderful until I actually completed it and the wind-up was the government offered us high-interest loans and I have told everyone I know don’t even waste your time! If you live in the Northeast as we do, the government doesn’t look at demographics only salary ~~ NOT cost of living. I can go a mile down the road to my credit union and get much lower interest loans than the government was offering. At the workshops I attended they always made it sound as though there’s FREE money out there~~in my experience with FAFSA it’s only high-interest loans the government offers and nothing more! You have to be almost poor in this country in order to get any real assistance~~We all know college is only for the rich and the poor, NOT the middle income! My suggestion is keep on your kids to study, study, study and they’ll be up for scholarships like my oldest who is attending his dream college not because of government assistance but thankfully because he worked his ass off in high school! And for those out there who say save from the time they’re little, that’s easier said than done in this economy! And, no we’ve never taken expensive vacations anywhere nor have a beautiful home so save your breath!

    • Thank you so much for your comment. The school has been pushing the FAFSA on us ever since senior year started. Now I’m glad we just ignored it. Thanks for your input. Now I’m going to tell everyone I know that this isn’t worth the try unless they have nothing else to help them.

      • It actually depends on the college. Some colleges and universities use the FAFSA to determine their own grants and scholarship aid beyond the aid available through the federal government. It is important to determine how your university determines merit aid. Do they require you to jump through this hoop to be eligible? I work as independent educational consultant and I have seen parents make $200k plus and receive grant aid a certain private institutions. I have also seen certain private institutions not give scholarships until the FAFSA is complete.

        • I agree that it depends on the school. If you are middle income and your child wants to attend a highly demanded state University, FAFSA will probably not get you much. Your child should indicate that they will take a work study job on campus. One child worked as a resident assistant in the dorm and developed wonderful leadership skills that have driven her career. Working as an R. A. will often get you a free dorm. FAFSA is generally required by all schools if you want financial aid from the school. I have found it more helpful for getting substantial free money from private, elite colleges (who will also require the CSS). Their aid will also probably offer your child an on campus job, but they might also offer you a nice grant, too. People think that State U. will always be cheaper, but sometimes it’s not. Don’t leave the high dollar private schools off your list. Just be sure to complete the FAFSA and CSS. You could come out about the same as State U., and maybe better. I “strongly suggested” my oldest attend State U because I was concerned that I had to educate two more behind her. She ended up turning down acceptance to Dartmouth. I now think that was a mistake. The younger one went to a nice private liberal arts college. She worked in the cafeteria her first year and had a grant and she, her dad, and I split the balance with loans. Freshmen always get the worse jobs (but she learned to cook and loves it now!). The next years she worked in the on-campus ministry. She loved it so much, she’s getting double masters now and one is in divinity. She also aggressively applied for other grants elsewhere, some of which financed a large part of her last two years, including some study abroad. After educating four kids (my three and a step daughter), I would never tell anyone not to complete the FAFSA. I do have parent loans, too, that I will now have to pay as I prepare for retirement. One child also didn’t have the greatest of grades. So yes, grades are important; however, I think SATs or an I. B. diploma are more important. I. B. students just are smarter and write better. Also, the colleges seem to want more kids to prop up that fake profile SAT score that they publish. Hopefully, with four well educated kids, mine will choose a nice nursing home for me when I’m finished paying these loans off.

        • Hello Beth,

          Are you one of those people that knows how to find the money? When my youngest started school her dad paid a nice chunk of money to someone that found all kinds of money,
          IF that’s what you do, can you tell me if there is anyting out there for young grandparents ?

          Adina

          • Those people charge thousands of dollars. If your student is college material, and motivated, s/he can do as well (or almost) at a significant net savings.

            Some of them are good for a free meal and some info about the process, just like in the retirement planning biz.

      • You should always do the FAFSA application, even if you don’t want any loan money. A university can still give you a great financial aid grant but only if you do this app!

        • Genius! Don’t take the 30 minutes to fill out a form that might save you thousands. You don’t have to take a loan if you don’t want it, but don’t misinform others with your own “expertise”.

    • Re: Kate

      short and sweet; I was approved for 138,000 at 5%.. Stanford. seek a good financial aid counselor. Post BS degree working on my masters. I don’t have any assets as well.

    • I worked in financial aid at a community college in southern California, and I can tell you the FAFSA is NOT a waste of time! In CA you can get the Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver (BOG- pays cost of all the per-unit fees) depending on your income, the CalGrant, and Pell Grant monies that will help cover tuition, books, and other supplies. Please for heaven’s sake don’t tell people not to apply- it isn’t a waste of time, and when I reviewed files I saw people with parents making 6 digits that qualified for full financial aid!!!

    • The real is that everyone waits until AFTER college to start paying on their loans then they want to cry about the payments. And many students misuse the funds while in college on on college related items. Then they want to cry a river when it comes time to pay them back.

      Every dime I get refunded to me each quarter, I put right back as a payment on the subsidized portion of my loans. This was my first time filing taxes and using the college credit and I couldn’t believe how much I got back on that. It will also go right back towards the loan.

      And my rate is only 3%. You aren’t going to get that at a bank.

      Anyone not using the FAFSA is shooting themselves in the foot. You aren’t forced to take the money and despite what the crybabies would have you think, there is full disclosure about payments and exactly how it all works.

    • Excellent post! You are speaking the truth.We filled out all of the FAFSA loan papers for our son and since we are “middle class” and paid off our home (when the economy was good pre-2008) we ended up getting a”ParentPLus” loan in 2010,since we couldn’t qualify for any financial aid.

      We knew going in that we were getting REAMED by this “Federally Backed” loan at 7.9%,but at the time we were financially “against the wall.”

      My son works part- time so he was able to support some of his basic necessities as a student ,but in many parts of the country the lion’s share of cost of education is housing.If you are in a expensive rental market like we are in the San Francisco Bay Area then get ready to pay big bucks.

      By diligence we managed to have our son stay with family members for several semesters,then he lived in dorms and off -campus…

      If your kids can get some of their units at a Junior college,live at home for awhile and amass some credits,that’s a good move.You’d be surprised at the quality of education available at junior colleges,sometimes surpassing private colleges.

      So,parents :BEWARE of the ParentPlus loans.Investigate other options,if available.
      Just think:Home loans are around 4%,auto loans are at about 2%,yet ParentPlus loans,which should be regarded as a necessary tool for building a strong,educated,productive society,are at 7.9% ? Why ?

  20. The IRS Data Retrieval tool is not an option for the parent who files as “Head of Household.” This should be presented at the beginning of the DR form, but isn’t. Hopefully, this will change soon, making the process equal for all filing categories.

    • I always file as Head of Household, and always use the data retrieval tool. I am not sure why it isn’t working for you. I would call their number -1- 800- 4fed- aid to see why. If you do any amendment it doesn’t work, and it also has to be a couple of weeks since you filed, but I have never had an issue.

      • You can use the data retrieval tool if you file as Head of Household. Just not if you are MARRIED and filing as Head of Household.

  21. In reply to Lisa’s rant, parents and students should check with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see if there are high paying jobs available in the field of interest. I personally like the joke “How do you get a person with a Liberal Arts degree off your front porch? Tip them $5 for delivering the pizza!”. I’ve heard many women decry “My child has a college degree and can’t find a job”. When I ask what the college degree is in, I usually get a reply like “Ancient Egyptian Architecture”. Really?

    • Your comment wanders kind of far afield of the FAFSA, but it also is so egregious that it requires a response.

      A liberal-arts degree, whether in English (as mine was), history, political science or Ancient Egyptian Architecture, was never intended to prepare a student specifically for his/her first job. It is intended to instill the skills needed for lifelong learning — critical thinking, analytical ability, historical and ethical perspective. And it does that so well, that higher education in our global competitors in Europe, Africa and Asia, having found that specific-job training doesn’t provide the learning ability their employees need, have begun embracing the liberal-arts model. (The CEO of Hong Kong-based shipper DHL recently paid to have two dozen U.S. professors in various liberal-arts fields flown to company HQ to work his senior executives.)

      Are such graduates at a disadvantage if they are searching for their first job? Perhaps. But if they identify an area of interest and begin seeking internships, shadowing opportunities and perhaps even part-time work in that area in freshman year, or even high school, and continue through college, they will gain experience and contacts that will make them marketable. And lifelong professional success correlates pretty strongly with a liberal-arts education, even among STEM folks. “Liberal arts” refers to the whole curriculum and doesn’t mean you can’t major in bio or physics. Moreover, a friend of mine who went on to become a physician actually majored in English, which was fine with the med schools to which he applied as long as he had completed the science prerequisites. He felt that learning about people through literature would make him a better doctor. He was right.

      • “.. far afield of FAFSA”? Au contraire, Brian’s comment is right on the money, which is the subject of the article.

        If you can afford it, a good liberal arts education is great. On the other hand, one does not have to go to school to get a good liberal arts education. Books and libraries have been around a long time, and the internet makes joining appropriate discussion groups easy for the motivated.

        The purpose of the school from the student’s perspective, in this case is to make this easier, the quality perhaps better, access to a network of college educated people, and primarily to get the document called a diploma. The latter can sometimes help in finding a job, since it implies a certain minimum level of competence (depending upon the school), or it can be a hindrance (many employers refuse to hire the over-qualified).

        For most in USA, the money is a big issue, just not the only one. Graduating with a large debt is truly a handicap, and the resulting stress may even takes years off a person’s life.

        BTW, anecdotes of success are merely that, anecdotes. Statistically they mean nothing by themselves. Basing an argument on them is a sign of either a poor education, or an agenda that has nothing to do with helping out the person one is responding to.

  22. I don’t understand if the student is independent why they would still need to provide their parents’ tax info. It should be an option and not mandatory. A friend of mine got the run around and no one at FAFSA could provide answers or solutions to the problem. She is estranged from her parents and they refuse to provide any information. To qualify for assistance she would either have to be married or have children. So what message are we sending out here and this explains allot.

    • Because people would totally abuse the system. I was in same boat 20 years ago, one of the reasons I didn’t go to school then. Now I found out that you can sometimes get exceptions but those are made at the local school level, you have to talk to someone at your school.

    • You can fill out a form at the office stating this very thing- I had a lot of parents who would refuse to provide information, but there are ways around it. You just have to go to the office to get help.

  23. Well here’s an idea. Start saving money when your child is born and pay for college yourself. We did it, for several children. You don’t have to be rich, just smart enough to start early and keep at it. Our children have degrees and NO loans.

    • Well, if my parents had done that for me, maybe I could afford to do that for my kids. Instead it took me 12 years to be able to go to college, another 10 to graduate, then it will be my husband’s turn. Then 10-25 years of paying off student loans. Then I suppose we’d really be “ready” to have kids by your standards. Too bad we’ll also be retirement age by then. Who knows, fertility doctors work miracles nowadays I hear. I wonder if any of the retirement homes have an onsite daycare…

    • Well here’s an idea. Be a bit more open-minded to those that did that until an injury prevented my husband work for a year and we had to fight to keep out house. And here’s an idea. Ask why american universities are so expensive ? Some people struggle no matter how hard they try for their children due to unforeseen circumstances. Your comment was very jidgemental. I wish I could be so perfect.

    • Dang, Amy and Catherine, calm down. It was an innocent enough statement. Obviously she wasn’t thinking about every bad circumstance out there.

      I have to put myself through college with no help AND a kid to support but I’m not getting mad at a random person for a sound piece of advice. If people can afford to save then they should, I’m sure that’s all she meant.

      • Katrina, you claim to be a mind reader or something, and to have figured out, out of tens of millions of moms who fit the description, who mom really is. Fantastic feat!

        “Mom” may be someone else making a political statement, suggesting the system isn’t broken when it is designed to make rich bankers richer.

        I don’t know what the actual case is, your guess is more likely than not to be somewhere near the truth, but you come across as tremendously naive.

    • you sound so smug! Clearly, you did not “major” in empathy. I saved for my children’s college and then got cancer. I had to cash out their college to pay for treatment. My children are going to college now, and I’ve got the loans to prove it. At least I will be alive to see them graduate.

    • I’m glad that you had that capability, Mom. Not all people have the same financial security, especially when they have young children. We are just coming out of a recession, with loads of people still looking for jobs. And might I add, the quip about “just smart enough to start early and keep at it” was rude. I’m sure you, and I suppose your husband/mate (whatever) had a two income household. Did you think about the fact that there are mothers, and fathers, out there raising kids on their own with only ONE income. Please think before you write, or speak. Why try to offend???? Why not try to give healthy input that can actually do good instead of damage.

    • You have to have disposable income to save money. Must be nice. Not everyone has money left over when raising a family. Most people have to borrow money to survive… Saving anything is sometimes impossible.

      • Well Chuck that isn’t true. You don’t need disposable income to save money. Just stop buying stuff you don’t need. Live within your means. The old adage pay yourself first still works. It is called a budget.

        • It is true many people buy stuff they don’t need, and many use disposable income to do it. Others who really don’t have disposable income, but buy that stuff out of (hoped for) future earnings (i.e. credit).

          But, some people truly do not have disposable income. They can save money at 0.1% interest, and then pay for needs at 25%. The best choice in that situation is a no-brainer.

    • Thanks for the constructive comment. So useful for those parents with college age children currently struggling with this issue. I hope you passed on your remarkable ability to empathize to your very fortunate children.

  24. My son applied for federal loan, denied because school had a rule of too many credits at the school without a degree. He was forced out by Katrina and came back yrs later to pursue a different course, but was still denied. I am sure he could get private loans, however we are not that stupid. They can keep their precious money, we will do it ourselves, lettuce tastes good. They piss me off, my son is hard-working, determined, and always had 4.0 throughout, graduated from college in Pensacola with networking degree. I dont appreciate the bull pucky kids are told these days. Be careful what you major in, you could be dead broke the rest of your life. I never heard my kid complain about filling out the fafsa, unreal.

  25. Well, the reason people make these mistakes is because the FAFSA uses some bizarre and obscure language that doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t tax lawyers… For example, household size? That should be the number of people in your house – but it’s not.

    Why not simply change the questions so that they’re what computer designers call “human readable” – that would probably help people fill it out more accurately.

    And while you’re at it… federal aid doesn’t begin to cover the cost of school, even with the maximum loans and grants – and it’s seems to make no difference where you’re living. Why would the aid be the same if you’re living in New York City where the average apartment rents for $3000 a month, as it would in Pocatello Idaho? It makes no sense. The grants and loans should be adjusted for cost of living…

    • I agree Michael. We live in San Francisco, and, while our income would be more than sufficient in the midwest, or, rather for about 98% of the country, here, it doesn’t go very far and BARELY covers the cost of rent and food. The calculation is unrealistic and needs to be adjusted based upon locality; much like Federal wages are based upon locality. I say reform the federal aid system.

    • I may agree with the idea but take into account where the money is coming from. They can’t just throw money around like it’s nothing. The country has already spent money that we don’t have. Yes, it would be great if they focused some of that money inward, on the kids who will contribute to this nation, but everything has already happened, there’s no going back.

      Should students get what they need to survive, if not thrive? Yes. Is the government responsible? No. Student aid is a privilege, not a right.

      It seems unfair, and the process may be a bit flawed, but the intent is not. They are already doing so much to help so many students. They can’t get to everyone.

      • The money is coming from us. The US government is a steward of the funds, but the money is coming from us… the taxpayers.

        While I agree that receiving aid… any sort of aid, whether it be subsidized student loans, educational grants, or food… is a privilege rather than a right, we also must consider where the aid comes from. The US government is not a powerful entity in the sky that bestows favors on folks, helping those that it can and inevitably missing a few along the way.

        Woven into these posts, I see frustration… especially from the middle and “upper middle” class. Because we pay the bulk of these taxes. We are the source of the funds, yet we often don’t qualify for “aid”. In our case, it is not “aid”… it is our tax money, helping the less fortunate while we come up with other, often less desirable, means for financing our education and the education of our children.

        Read the responses. We delay our education. Our children take out higher interest loans. We tap into our retirement savings, often paying tax penalties on the early withdrawal. We take out second mortgages. We send our kids to less expensive local schools. Why? Because we are “aiding” other folks.

        Aiding others is a good thing. A noble thing. And inasmuch as we are able, we should strive to help others. But aiding others before we aid ourselves is faulty.

        My husband and I financed our own educations through student loans. Fifteen years down the road, we are still paying them. For the last two years, we have been part of the middle class squeezed by the AMT. That means no deductions for our three kids. No student loan interest deductions. No Hope Credit. No Lifetime Learning Credit. And lots of federal taxes. The oldest of our three kids started college this year. She applied for and was of course denied federal aid. Her private loan was disbursed at a whopping 11% interest rate.

        This is not a case of middle-class earners wanting free money from “The Government”. This is middle-class America with three children, earning well under $200K per year, paying taxes at a staggering 28% tax rate, and not “qualifying” for anything. We don’t want a handout from the US government. We want access to the funds we paid in.

    • Many complaints… 1. Who could actually finish a tax return by 2/1? That’s my deadline for several of the colleges. I don’t even get my 1099’s, K-1’s etc… until mid February. So, I have to try to estimate my entire tax return. If you have a lot of investments and rental property like I do, that’s no easy task. 2. I really don’t want my teenager to have that much information about my financials! 3. I’ve read several articles that they share how you ranked your colleges and that colleges use that to accept/deny. Great. How to rank a reach school that you would love to attend vs. the school you are almost certainly getting into is a problem. Of course, reach school is #1 but if we put the school we’ll probably go to lower, we could end up not getting into any school! Yikes. If you are accepted into the #1 school, some articles imply that will reduce your financial aid because they know you really, really want to go there and you would most likely be willing to pay more. 4. How much is your parent willing to pay? Doesn’t that depend on the school? You get what you pay for, right? 5. Now I get to complete the CSS profile…it’s even more invasive. Finally… #6 If anyone ever hacks this information, we are ruined. You are giving all of this information out to god knows who at every college you applied to. Why can’t they manage to at least postpone the due date until after acceptance letters? I know financial aid needs time to put together a package for you but colleges should find a way to work that out. If it’s need-blind do they even look at all of them anyway?

      • You can fill out your FAFSA early and mark the “not filed yet” option. You can estimate based on the previous year’s tax return, your last pay check, or whatever. The important thing is that is locks in your FAFSA submission date. Which will stay the same. Once you get your tax return filled out, you can go back to the FAFSA and fill in the correct amounts. But your filing date will be the date you originally filed the FAFSA with your estimates. I was told this by a college financial aid counselor.

      • I have been filling out the FAFSA for my kids for 5 years. It is Federal law that all your 1099’s, w-2’s, etc. must be received by January 31st. I made sure that I had my taxes done as early as possible so that I could complete the FAFSA. The decision of the type of funding the student receives (scholarships, loans, etc.) is made by the school, not the government. It is extremely important to apply to more than one school for that very reason. My daughter was accepted at some great schools, but chose the one that gave her the most money in scholarships. My son chose the one that was able to lend him low interest loans in addition to the federal loans. A lot of these posts indicate that the student is filing the FAFSA after choosing the school, and then mad when not getting the funding they want for THAT school. Like I said, the school is the one that makes the decisions after the student applies. We filled out the FAFSA and indicated all the schools to which applications were sent. Then we waited to see the college responses regarding financial aid. Some didn’t offer anything except high interest loans, some offered 80% scholarships with a small percentage of loans. People need to be informed, and not make universal judgments about the FAFSA system. I am extremely pleased because it is the only way my children have been able to attend college. Although they will have student loan debt, I see it as an investment into their future. Job prospects may not be very good right now, but I have to believe that once companies start hiring, those with an education have a better chance of securing positions. My daughter is now in medical school, so her future is looking promising. We are middle class working parents and are grateful for the opportunity offered by FAFSA and what it represents.

        • investment income and dividend information does not have to be sent by brokerage firms until March. That makes getting taxes done by 4/15 and FAFSA done on time very challenging.

        • Federal law says the tax forms you receive from your employer, etc., must be MAILED by January 31st. Not received by then. Big difference.

          • Exactly my problem. I have to fill out the FASFA with estimates and then file a correction after my stock statements show up at the end of February/early March. If the schools need tax information they should have the same deadline as taxes, April 15th.

  26. I think post-secondary education is the biggest scam out there…over-promising young and eager kids with American dream being directly tied to a college education then reality ends up being seriously under-delivered! They enter the job market with little real world work experience and enormous debt. These loans quickly balloon out of control with interest accrual these kids barely understand. It’s worse for those who opted for the higher priced colleges! Nothing like being sold a bill of goods, $120,000 loan debt for a liberal arts degree and $26,000 a year! School debt default is the next big financial crisis on the horizon! And— as for all that scholarship money they tell you that is out there….YEAH RIGHT! Only if you are poor, or a minority. Average middle-class students get ZERO! It’s like summer camp-heavily marketed, pegged on emotion about you kids well-being, growing more expensive every year! Every college we visited had new dorms that resemble 4-star hotels and state of the art fitness centers…yet they churn out students that cannot even write a business letter!

      • Our family is minority, middle income, and our two children that attended State U. got no cash. One with great grades got a work study working as an resident assistant. It ended up being wonderful leadership training. What helped getting cash was applying to a private, liberal arts school, maybe a little being a minority, too, that was in a state with not-such-great weather (winters that are long and regularly hit below zero temps). Not many blacks want to go those places. I think being ‘unusual’ can probably work for whites, too. Look for schools that don’t have many applicants from your state. Promote your child’s unique talents (wonderful oboe player?). The college system is stacked against low and moderate income people, so you have to ‘work the system’ any way you can. But do complete the FAFSA.

      • People that think they have to attend college are all hoity toity with the reading, writing and arithmetic, and their fancy pants statistics about college graduates making an average of $7,000 a year more than those without a degree.

    • Lisa,
      While I understand your frustration may I say this, I see alot of kids in college going for degrees that have limited outcomes. We need to remind our young people that THEY need to do their due diligence before even selecting a major. My father made it a point to have his children research each degree before selecting any major, and this was years ago. When I decided to go back to school, I followed the same path of enlightenment, by researching the degrees that I was interested in – what classes needed to be taken (am I strong in them to get good grades), are their internship opportunities in this field (giving you the necessary “hands on” experience), how much is tuition (can I afford it), what is the job market like (and what are the future projections of said job market), etc. These tools my AWESOME dad gave me has shaped my college career and life’s path, and now I see a future that is more secure because I am doing what I love and getting paid for it. So, after writing all that, theres more to education then just taking a class and getting a grade.

  27. I signed my daughter’s FAFSA forms back in the late 90’s. She hasn’t spoken to me in 10 years and now I’m responsible for paying back $30,000. Bankruptcy didn’t help. I didn’t get any benefit from this money, but she’s sticking me for the bill. Terrible laws regarding student loans. I only have Social Security income and she’s making 60 or 70 thousand a year!

    • Something doesn’t make sense here. The FAFSA itself is not a loan, and does not obligate you to do anything (including actually pay for your child’s education.) It simply gives the DoE and colleges a means to determine what your family can contribute financially for educational expenses. You may have co-signed a student loan for your daughter, in which case you may have to make payments if she fails to do so. Or you may have taken out a parent loan, in which case you are actually the one required to repay the loan. If your daughter is in a position to pay on loans which she took out, she certainly should be doing so. You might want to consult an attorney–most counties have a Legal Aid bureau which can help refer you to an attorney, and often the first consultation is free or a very reduced rate. Good luck–as a parent who’s still trying to get two through college, my heart goes out to you.

    • The system wasn’t set up to help you or your daughter. It was set up for the bankers that are screwing you. Unfortunately, it also does the best job it can do to hide the fact.

      Check out Chuck’s advice. It sounds like you have nothing to lose in your relationship with your daughter, which may be so bad a lawsuit might produce a better result. You will be stressed, but not necessarily more so than you are now. If you lose, it will cost you money, but you might win even without going to court. Worst case, you daughter will be stuck defending the suit.

      But, check out others’ experience on-line before you pay a lawyer. You have the time, after all.

  28. It basically depends on a person’s financial situation. FAFSA can be very helpful. I got appx $7000 a year for college that I didn’t have to pay back. Tuitions vary, but for me it covered tuition and books, with money left over.

  29. THE FAFSA IS NOTHING MORE THAN A VEHICLE TO GET STUDENTS TO BORROW MONEY AND GET THEM IN DEBT. i HAVE 2 CHILDREN AND NEITHER ON E OF THEM HAS EVER BEEN OFFERED A SCHOLARSHIP OR GRANT OR GRANT ON THE BASIS OF THE FAFSA, ONLY GOVERNMENT AND OTHER LOANS.

    • The US Department of Education makes it pretty darned clear on every site for financial aid seekers: borrowing is a last resort. By your logic shown above, every child–or just your children–merit scholarships, and this is not true at all. Also, where in your reading of the instructions does the FAFSA suggest it will offer scholarships? Read again. Grants are determined by several factors–and perhaps your family simply didn’t quality this year. Not every student receives one–they’re not entitlements to be distributed to all. Keep trying, and also look for scholarship opportunities outside the US DoE.

    • I can understand your frustration but just because YOUR children didn’t qualify doesn’t mean that no one else does. The helps determine eligibility for federal aid, state aid (in some cases) and college aid (in most cases).

    • I agree to an extent. Ideally, the FAFSA is a good mechanism for identifying students who need financial assistance. But it does not take in to consideration a family’s debt ratio. It only looks at AGI. The middle class family is left out in the cold. Income is too high to qualify for any grants, and too low to help pay for college. It would be nice if there was something in place to help those families ~

    • There is a box on the FAFSA that asks if the student is interested in student loans. They simply need to mark they are not interested, and none is offered.

    • The federal student financial aid process, of which the FAFSA is a part, does exists primarily to help the banks, and has ended up screwing a lot of students and their families big time. And by big time, I mean it sometimes totally dominates personal finances and job choices for a lifetime.

      It does not mean the process has not helped many people.

      Learn how to write decently or better. All caps is for telegrams, and similar communications constrained by old communications technologies.

  30. If the college student keeps a folder with all the important passwords and numbers from one year to the next the process is much easier. I suggest printing a copy each year and saving that also. Don’t get overwhelmed, it’s worth the time.

  31. If they cannot successfully fill out an application, are they really college material? P.S. I have an AAS which REALLY improved my life!

    • Very good point, but then again, I’ve known people who wouldn’t be considered college material and have gone on to have very successful academic carreers.

      P.S. I have MCMS, and am halfway to a JD

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