The Nitty Gritty and Tid Bits of FAFSA and Financial aid
by Erin H.
I have worked in financial aid for two years now as a student worker/work-study and have helped many students forge through the pain of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. As a student/parent who are filling these forms out for first time it can seem as bad as getting a root canal if you have no help, of course this also pertains to those people to who have special situations. After the first or second time it gets easier and you figure out who to communicate with. Main things you need to know are:
• Fill out your FASFA as soon as possible, PELL grants dwindle as deadlines approach and so do scholarships.
• Fill out scholarships, ask your financial aid advisor where you need to go to get college scholarships, most scholarship forms or information is most likely located at your foundations office.
• Before signing any papers make sure you read and understand what you are signing, I had a financial advisor once tell me to circle everything yes because it was free money. NOT true you might be accepting a loan that you will have to pay back.
• If you are accepting a loan know the difference: Subsidized is interest free while you are in school (The government pays the interest) Unsubsidized loans have interest while you are in school. You will need to pay loans back after graduation or 6 months out of school. If you have no job or another situation you need to put loan into deferment by contacting lender.
• After you fill out your FAFSA form you will get an email stating your application has been received, this is NOT from your financial aid office this is an email from the FAFSA site. You will need to wait at least 7 days or more for your financial aid office to receive your FAFSA.
• Apply for a Pin if you don’t have one (you have never filled out a fafsa) this can be found on the FAFSA site first page. Your pin electronically signs for you on FAFSA when entered at the end.
• The FAFSA site is a government site and never asks you for payment, make sure your on www.FAFSA.gov.
Here is the nitty gritty about FASFA forms first thing you need to know, are you a dependent student or independent student. This has nothing to do if you are living by yourself, or if your parents claim you on taxes or not. Most of the time you’ll get asked three questions: 1) Are you over the age of 25? I found that when I fill out forms if you are over the age of 24 and going to turn 25 that year you are consider an independent student. 2) Do you have children? 3) Are you married? If you answered yes to any of these you are consider an Independent student. Bring your own taxes, you won’t need your parents. If you still don’t know they have worksheets to help you in the financial aid office. If both parents have died, if a parent died and you don’t know your other parent, or parent won’t give you their tax info and you aren’t living with them this is a special situation/ Special circumstance and you should talk to financial advisor, don’t give up, be very open, they are there to help information is confidential.
Next is all your financial income information. Have all your papers that you’ll need as in taxes from the year before. This can be confusing to a student/parent who is applying for a spring semester and didn’t attend fall. If you are attending spring 2016 you will still need your 2014 taxes and you will press on the tab school year attending 2015/2016. For summer it’ll be consider the next year, so if your attending 2016 summer use your 2015 taxes and use the tab school year attending 2016/2017. You can also use the tax retrieval tool, this pulls you or your parent’s taxes from the IRS. For this you will need exact address information put on taxes, names, and social
security numbers. The hardest part for anyone is locating all the numbers, but there is a guide on the right hand side that will help you. When dealing with income situations I run into all the time, a child who is raised by grandparents and they don’t do taxes. You will need your grandparents (both, unless deceased or divorced) SS#, date of birth, all names (maiden), date of marriage. If grandparents are divorced you will need the date of divorce. Where it wants you to put income you need to put zero.
There are some problems that make you want to pull your hair out, because you don’t know what you should do and want to give up; DON’T! One of my main problems that students have is putting in a high school that is not listed. This is how you get around that, put your high school in, city and state. Now press the NEXT button, DO NOT press confirm. It should take you to the part asking what college you are going to attend. An additional problem I get is someone has lost their job, or some type of income change. Bring proof, paper work, and layoff notices whatever you have to prove your income has changed. You will need to fill out the FAFSA like normal with the income stated on the taxes you are using, BUT you now need to go a financial advisor and tell them you need a PROFESSIONAL JUDGEMENT due to income change. Explain your situation, tell them you have finished your FAFSA and now need to know the next steps. Now the biggest of big situations that are scary and hairy but can be conquered is a financial aid APPEAL. You will have to fill out a form pertaining to Unsatisfactory Academic Progress form, meaning you probably failed a couple classes, got very poor grades or withdrew and got an F, maybe due to family situation. Another type is 150% APPEAL meaning you probably have over 120 credits and you haven’t received a bachelor’s degree, or you have over 65 credits and don’t have an associates. In both cases you need to get the appeal form that needs to be filled out, most likely your school has mailed you this form or you can get it off their school website. Before going to financial aid you need to go see an advisor and get an academic plan and then have your advisor sign your appeal form, now you may go to financial aid to finish the process. If you are chosen for Verification all you need to do is go to the IRS site and print out an online Tax Return Transcript/ IRS Transcript. You will need the Name first and last on Taxes and an email you can log into right away. You SS#, DOB, filing stats, exact address put on taxes and then proceed as a guest. It takes about 3-4mins!
At last the end, print out the last page when filling out your FAFSA it shows the amount you are eligible to receive (located on right side under table) depending on certain things. Certain things you might ask, the amount shown is the amount for the two semesters you’re attending. So that gets split in half then if you are a part-time student, and depending on credits you will only receive a percent of that. Example: Amount shown you are eligible for $5,700, which means this amount will be split into two; fall and spring meaning $2850per semester. You are only taking 6 credits (usually 2 classes) this fall semester, that means you are only a part-time student (12 or more credits is a full-time student) so you’ll only receive 50% of $2850. You are awarded $1,425 for fall semester that financial aid will cover for tuition and books. Remember each college is different but most of the information applies to generally all colleges. I hope I helped, good luck on your endeavors and remember you have climbed this far YOU CAN DO IT!
Thanks Erin for sharing all your valuable experience with FAFSA and financial aid for college.