Help to Overcome FAFSA: Financial Aid Frightens Some Adults
by Howard Freedman
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Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is interesting why so many families are scared off by the FAFSA form. The acronym for FAFSA that stands for:: Free Application for Student Aid is the primary form that has been modified many times to make it simpler and more secure. I applaud these changes yet its main purpose for determining financial need has remained unchanged as it continues to create some fear, uncertainty, and insecurity for those that must complete it.
To be more creative, my acronym for the FAFSA is: Financial Aid Frightens Some Adults. This is often the case when I observe many parents exiting financial aid nights at high schools or forums. Their first reaction is not to bother completing a FAFSA since they think that they may not qualify for much aid. What they fail to recognize is that it packs a very powerful punch when calculating how much a family should be (but may not be able) to contribute to the cost of college. They may not comprehend is that with a submitted FAFSA the student qualifies for at least a Stafford loan, a Pell grant or college aid that may even be forgiven over time.
Knowing this, my mission is not to personally fill in the blanks on a form. It is to correctly guide families through the process of reviewing and analyzing their information while identifying the red flags (questionable and conflicting data ) that impact the calculated FAFSA output-the Expected Family Contribution. After that, I elaborate on what to do next after each form is completed.
My best analogy about completing the form on your own or retaining a qualified financial aid consultant can be compared to the I the IRS tax forms. There is no question that they are free to complete it, yet the IRS lists many services that can do it free for the neediest families or charge a fee. These tax returns and supporting documentation can be completed in many ways via the do it yourself process, through a tax service, a CPA, using user friendly tax return software or talking to virtual and some live customer service respite good news is that individuals have choices and are certainly capable of doing or getting advice on their own. It looks easy so why not save some money and do it on our own? The reason is simply that it may cost more in the long run if you do not fully comprehend the process, withhold critical information or make simple mistakes that are later discovered. The consequences could be devastating and put many financial aid awards at risk. Then ask yourself if it was fully worth it? The answer all depends on the sought-after results, value cost and integrity of the organization helping you.
The FAFSA instructions state that it takes about an hour to complete. I highly doubt that it would take that long but could for those less familiar with it. It can also require the submission of a verification form to the college at random or for conflicting information, request detailed personal and business income tax returns for further review, require explanations for one-time exceptions (such as capital gains or payouts not highlighted or visible from the IRS Data Retrieval System) and substantiation for non-custodial or unmarried family members providing additional financial support.
It doesn't analyze the financial aid award, strategize the appeal process or recommend the right loan and or financing that fits a family’s budget. It excludes the more detailed CSS Profile that may be needed by some colleges and or the non-custodial profile, when applicable.
To reiterate, the FAFSA is an important form with online links with informative information that does not do it all. It is only one requirement that qualifies the student for some aid but does not guide the parents through every aspect of a long and often expensive financial aid trail. That is why it is often best to get more personalized attention to overcome information overload that can be overwhelming. Beyond that, this is why I help families to better understand the required forms, their options and what they are getting themselves into.
Helping others creates greater personal satisfaction knowing that I led them in the right direction.
Let me add another acronym for those needing my help: Finding Alternatives For Smart Adults. That’s what it is all about!!