Understanding the FAFSA form

CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) –  It’s that time of year again when parents of college students have to fill out their FAFSA applications for Federal Student Aid. But mistakes often happen when filling out this form. College Planning Expert, Paul Hemphill of Planning-For-College.com, shared tips every parent needs to know.

What is this form and why is it important?
It’s known as the FAFSA form, an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form is available on line at FAFSA.ed.gov and when you answer the 103 questions in about 30 minutes by using last year’s tax return, the government tells each college you apply to what your family can afford to spend on college. Colleges then decide how much financial aid they will give you based on the financial information you provided on the form.

Is it possible to find out how much aid you will receive BEFORE filling out the form?
Yes. Go on the college board website and look up the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator. Just fill in the blanks and get your answer.

Is there a limit or cut-off dollar amount where a family cannot receive any aid?
Yes. For families making over $125,000, there’s little chance you’ll receive what is known as need-based aid; that figure goes to $200,000 if you’re applying to a more expensive private college.

Since most families are below the cut-offs, what mistakes do parents make on this form?
Not answering the questions correctly! When the form asks you to list your investments, I see people list their retirement funds or the equity in their homes. These are big mistakes! I had a parent list their $25,000 in savings in their child’s savings account by mistake, and when I caught it, I saved the parent from losing $12,500 in financial aid because the colleges penalize parents on a savings account by 5.6% but students are penalized at a whopping 50 percent! Also, question 24 and 25 ask about the highest level of education your parents completed. If your parents are just one credit away from a college degree, be sure to check off high school because many colleges offer more aid if the parents never earned a college degree. If you want to prevent making such mistakes, call the FAFSA 800 # and get all the guidance and free advice you can.

Can you use the FAFSA to get more money even if the form says you definitely don’t qualify for any need-based aid?
Answer: I love this question! On question #103 colleges assume you are listing the colleges you’re applying to in order of your preference. That suggests the second and third college will likely offer you more money to woo you away from your first choice. What that means is…list your first choice college as your third choice to get more merit aid from the admissions office. And be sure each of these colleges are in the same league with each other – colleges that regard each other as equals. In other words, if UMass and Yale are your choices, this strategy won’t work, but UMass and UNH? That’ll work.

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