University of Notre Dame
Your expected family contribution (EFC) is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college. That amount could be more or less than the calculated EFC, and might vary by college. The FAFSA EFC is just a number used by your school to calculate the amount of federal student aid you are eligible to receive. It is a good starting point to estimate the cost of college for your student. If you submit a FAFSA Correction, your expected family contribution amount may change.
Check out the Expected Family Contribution EFC Calculator from collegeboard.org website: collegeboard.org
New regulations also require colleges to have a calculator to estimate cost of attendance. You can find these calculators on the colleges website financial aid pages.
The actual financial aid offer will depend on the school, and may be a combination of scholarships and grants, loans and work study programs. Some colleges may offer a financial aid package that requires the family to pay even more than the expected family contribution. For a list of some of the best colleges for financial help, see College Tuition List.
Do not have a lot of cash in bank accounts - If you are a dependent student, your parents should reduce the amount of money in checking and savings accounts at the time the FAFSA is submitted. One way is to pay off debts or bills that will not be taken into account with the EFC is calculated. For example, suppose you are ready to submit your FAFSA application on November 15. Some examples of bills to pre-pay might include mortgage, rent, utilities, income taxes, property taxes, home insurance or car repair. Or there may be upcoming expenses, like a new computer or furniture for college that can be purchased early. Be careful not to spend money that you will need to pay for your college education, since financial aid funds may not be available when the bills are due for the first semester. Also, with recent cutbacks in student aid, you may not receive as much college financial aid as you expect. You should also keep documentation that your actual bank account value as of the date you submit your FAFSA, in case your college asks for proof. For example, you could go to your bank and get cashiers check to pay for your upcoming bills a few days before, then get an official statement from the bank of your current balance on the day you submit your FAFSA.
Note: If the FAFSA parent total assets are below a threshold of $14,100, then they do not need to be reported on the online FAFSA. This excludes the value of primary residence and all retirement accounts. This same exclusion does not apply for the funds held in a dependent student's name (see below) on the FAFSA application. Also, CSS Profile wants to know everything!
Do not keep money or assets in the student’s name, for example, bank accounts, savings, stocks or bonds. - Both dependent and independent students are expected to contribute a higher percent of their assets to pay for college than a parent.
Select a school that bases financial aid on the FAFSA not CSS Profile - There are several key differences between the financial aid calculation based on the FAFSA and CSS Profile. The FAFSA method does not count the equity of the primary residence, and for divorced parents, does not count the income or assets of the parent that the dependent student does not live with. For certain students, these can make a very big difference in their financial aid packages. Consider applying to some colleges that provide need-based financial aid using the FAFSA and not the CSS profile if you have a lot of equity in the family home, or if the parents are divorced and the other parent has substantial income or assets.
Do not accept money from grandparents for college - Many grandparents who have savings would love to help their grand kids with college expenses. One way is to establish a college 529 savings plan, which is a great way to pay for college but the funds do count as savings for the EFC. Another way is to wait until the last year of college or university to pay for college expenses, if there are no other siblings in college. Or wait until after the student graduates, and the money can be used to pay toward private or Federal Student Loans .
Do not withdraw retirement funds - Using retirement funds for college should always be considered carefully, as the funds may be needed in retirement. These retirement accounts are not included as assets on the FAFSA, because they are intended to be used for retirement. If you decide to use your IRA, Roth IRA or 401k savings plan to help pay for a top college, it is best to wait until the last year of college when it is not a base year for a FAFSA, or to take a loan from your 401(k) for college tuition expenses. See College Savings Plans for tips on saving for college.
Don’t take out a home equity loan - With home prices dropping in recent years, many people have lost so much equity that using the home equity for college financial assistance is not even an option. In fact in most cases, you should never leverage your home equity, as you could risk losing your home. But if you have a lot of equity that you feel comfortable using for college, a line of credit is a better choice. You can write checks for just the amount you need, vs. taking out a loan and having the unspent funds counted against you when the Expected Family Contribution or EFC is determined.
Just remember to review your financial aid offers carefully, as some schools will not fully fund your need, and some offers may be mostly student loans which must be repaid, not scholarships and grants, which are free money for college.
For assistance in selecting the best aid offer, see best offer of Financial Aid for College.
FAFSA Application - The 2017-18 FAFSA application is available now (starting October 1 2016).