The ABCs of FAFSA student aid

TitleGetting ready for college can be both exciting and exhausting for students and parents, alike. First there are decisions to be made. What is the chosen field of study? What kind of school – a Big 10 school, small ­private ­college or the local community college? Live at home, close to home or go as far away as possible? Where are my friends going? Does that matter? Education can also be expensive, so there is the big question – where will the money come from to pay for tuition, books, meals, housing, etc? So many factors come into play. Some of the answers will be subjective and depend on the family, the student, the major, the geography and so on.

Many of the answers, however, are straight­forward and begin with one form: the FAFSA.

What is a FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. So, it’s for federal aid? Yes, but not only federal aid. The completed FAFSA helps providers determine if you qualify for various federal, state and college-provided financial aid. How do they know what I’ll need? Many factors go into the decision. In fact, there are 100-plus questions to answer. What your family contributes is a good place to start. It’s called your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). That is the amount your family can ­contribute toward your education. What is that based on? It is dependent on each student’s family’s contribution – which includes what the students and, in most cases, their parents can contribute. (Source: www.fafsaapplication.com).

As you complete the FAFSA, there are a number of things to keep in mind.

Lisa Collier, associate vice president of enrollment ­services at Lincoln Land Community College hears questions all the time. She says the question she hears most often is: Do I have to provide parent information on my FAFSA?

According to Collier, “If you are considered dependent, your parents’ income and assets as well as your own must be reported on the FAFSA. Students are classified as dependent or independent because federal student aid programs are based on the principle that students (and their parents or spouse, if applicable) are considered the primary source of support for postsecondary education.”

You must provide your parents’ information unless you meet one of the following conditions:

1. You are 24 years of age or older

2. You will be working on a master’s degree

3. You are married

4. You have children that receive more than half of their support from you

5. You have dependents, other than your children or spouse, that live with you and receive more than half of their support from you

6. Both of your parents are deceased or you are (or were until age 18) in foster care or a ward or dependent of the court

7. You are (or were until the age of 18) an emancipated minor

8. You are (or were until the age of 18) in legal guardianship

9. You are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training

10. You are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces

Students who don’t meet those requirements, but may have special circumstances, should contact the college financial aid office to which they are applying. The Lincoln Land Community College Financial Aid Office can be reached at 217-786-2237.

There are a number of websites touting how to ­complete a FAFSA, or how to obtain potential free funding for ­education. Collier warns, “Never utilize a website that requires you to pay money for free money.” The website she recommends is: www.fafsa.gov.

“The easiest way to complete or correct your FAFSA with accurate tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool through www.fafsa.gov. In a few simple steps,” says Collier, “most students and parents who filed a 2014 tax return can view and transfer their tax return information directly into their FAFSA. Report your marital status as of the date you sign your FAFSA.”

Also, keep in mind, “to be eligible for federal student aid, male citizens and male immigrants residing in the U.S. aged 18 through 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System, with limited exceptions,” she adds.Cap_w-Money_Clipped_Reduced

Are there any circumstances where one wouldn’t need to ­complete a FAFSA?

There are a couple of exceptions, but in most instances, the FAFSA is a required document, and could be a great way to find funding for education. Collier points out the following two exceptions:

• A student who has already earned a bachelor’s degree and is only looking at advanced degrees does not need to complete the FAFSA, as they would be ineligible for aid.

• All students may receive Pell Grants for up to 12 ­semesters. Financial aid eligibility is dependent on the student being enrolled in a program of study that is ­eligible for financial aid. MTI or other technical schools, for example, could have programs that meet the ­criteria. The best thing to do is to check in with the specific school of interest.

Collier, however, recommends “Students needing any amount of financial assistance apply for financial aid. Eligibility is based on a number of factors: family size, the number of students in school, the family income/assets, even the age of the parents. Students should contact the financial aid office at the school of their choice to receive assistance.”

What are the recommended resources for ­students/parents as they go through the process?

“The FAFSA asks questions about you and your finances,” Collier says, “so have the following information readily available:

• Social Security number,

• alien registration number (if applicable),

• federal tax information or tax returns,

• records of untaxed income; cash, savings and checking account balances,

• and investments other than the home in which you live.

The FAFSA helps students/parents find the grants, loans and work-study funds for students attending college or a career school. It’s worth the time and effort. Be sure and note the deadlines for each academic year. Get started early, and good luck.

Acronym Soup

FAFSA: Free Application for Student Assistance

DRN: Data Release Number

ED: United States Department of Education

EFC: Expected Family Contribution

FSA ID: Federal Student Aid ID

IRS: United States Internal Revenue Service

SAR: Student Aid Report

PIN: Personal Identification Number

For detailed information on each one go to: www.fafsa-application.com

Additional Resources

Twitter: http://twitter.com/FAFSA

Facebook: Federal Student Aid

YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/federalstudentaid

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa (Great video here)

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