Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FAFSA Info Night Wrap Up

Thank you to Anthony Becker for, once again, generously sharing his expertise with our students and families in regards to the FAFSA line by line presentation last night. I know the material can be difficult and overwhelming to hear at such a fast pace and going straight through, but just being there hopefully helped everyone pick up a few key points about filling out the form. If anyone has additional questions and feel they could benefit from a sit-down meeting with Mr. Becker (who is a Certified Financial Planner) you can call him at 914-722-1777 to schedule an appointment. Please keep in mind that he is very busy so you should call soon if you want to see him.

Here are the key highlights that would want to reiterate:

- If you don't apply for aid, you can't get it. It is in most people's benefit to at least apply. Worst case scenario, you don't get aid, but best case scenario you could qualify for something you were not expecting. The usual cut off for income for a family to get need based aid with one person in college is about $220,000 of income, or less, per household. Some schools won't give merit aid if you don't fill out the FAFSA though, so again, it is smart for everyone to try.

- Evaluate your assets to see if there is a way to shift money out of the certain categories that work against you into other categories that will not. For example, if you have lots of money in a savings account but also have lots of credit card debt, it is normally advisable to pay off the credit cards and lower the amount in savings because colleges won't factor in the credit card debt when making the financial aid package and the interest rate on consumer debt is much higher than that of a student loan.

- 529 accounts are, in Anthony's words, 'sticky.' Most families do not benefit from having them because to the government and the college that is money that you have already set aside to pay for school, they are going to ask you to use those up first before giving you additional aid.

- The FAFSA is filled out by the student for the household they live in. If your parents are divorced, you should fill it out for the home you live in the majority of the year (there are 365 days, you have to live in one place more of the time). The other parent will not be considered for the FAFSA. However, the more generous schools will normally also ask you to fill out the CSS Profile. This document will ask for your non-custodial parent information. Every school is different in how they analyze these forms and every family is different in how they are evaluated by these forms (for some families, the FAFSA will show a lower Estimated Family Contribution, or others the CSS will give a more accurate number for what a family can afford).

- Identity is huge for the government. You MUST use the exact name and spelling listed on your Social Security Card (and same goes for parents). If you don't, your FAFSA will be taken off the 'conveyer belt' (And that just means delays for you and other people getting packaged before you. Not ideal.)

- Pay attention to the wording on the form. The form is meant to be filled out by the student - so if a parent is doing it for the child be sure to remember if you are wearing the student hat or the parent hat for each section (the form asks for information about both people).

- Do. Not. Lie. On. These. Forms. Fraud is serious. It isn't worth the risk.

If you have questions and don't decide to use a certified financial planner to help you, there is a FAFSA help line at 1-800-433-3243 and a FAFSA web help section at:

The form will go live for seniors January 1. Be sure you are filling out the 2012-2013 form because that is the SCHOOL YEAR when you'll be in school. The CSS is availiable now if your school requires it. You do have to pay for the CSS but the FAFSA is free. Never go to any FAFSA website besides the .gov one. The others are scams.