By now you should have completed and submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Financial Aid Profile (FAP) if your child is applying to private colleges or universities. You also need to submit any additional forms required by some schools.
So, What Happens Now?
You get to take a short breather before turning your attention to the next step, which starts when you receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR. You should receive this form in the mail about three to four weeks after submitting the FAFSA. If you also submitted an FAP, look for an Acknowledgment Form from College Scholarship Service (CSS) in the mail in about three to four weeks, too.
Now, here's the important thing to remember: Don't just file the SAR and Acknowledgment Form and forget about them!
Take A Close Look At These Forms!
Carefully review them and make sure the information is accurate. Remember, your child's future education hangs in the details. A misplaced decimal point or transposed numeral in your social security number could make a huge difference in how much money you get for your child's college years!
So, what do you do now that you have these forms in hand? Here are the steps to follow. If you need help or information at any step along the way, feel free to call us at 631-864-3688. That's why we're here...to help you pay for college without going broke!
Step #1 - Check Your SAR And Make Any Corrections On Part II!
You should also complete and return Part II if you estimated your income and tax information on the FAFSA and it turns out that your actual figures are different from your estimates.
If you submit Part II of the SAR, you will receive a revised SAR in a few weeks. Again, look over the form carefully and make sure all the numbers and other information are correct. In fact, make this your mantra:
Check Every Detail Not Just Once, But Twice Or Even Three Times.
Details Make The Difference!
While you're checking for errors, keep in mind one of the most common--and potentially costly: Erroneously stating that your child already has a bachelor's degree. That small but significant mistake will automatically make you ineligible for a Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and most state grants!
See what I mean about making sure everything is accurate?
Step #2: - Know Your Expected Family Contribution!
This is the number after the initials "EFC," located below the processing date on Part I of the form. Put a dollar sign in front of the EFC number and you have the amount of money you will be expected to pay toward the cost of any college or university, based on a nine-month enrollment period. (If the first numeral of the EFC is a zero, simply ignore it.)
The EFC is the most meaningful figure on the SAR! Simply put, it's the minimum dollar amount you'll need to dig out of your pocket for your child's college education. We call this your "College Co-pay". To simplify it, think of it like your health insurance where you only have to pay your co-pay amount for an office visit. It's the same with college.
When you see the EFC for the first time, you might suffer from an attack of sticker shock. "They expect me to come up with THAT MUCH money?" you might ask. You might also wonder where they come up with that figure.
Well, the EFC comes from a federal government formula called the Federal Methodology Need Analysis (or "need test") system. It's based primarily on your family's adjusted gross income and some of your assets.
If you think this is confusing so far, consider this: The Federal Methodology is used to determine your EFC for public colleges and universities. But many private colleges and universities, a few states and some private donor programs use an Institutional Methodology Need Analysis system. Depending on many factors, the Institutional Methodology may give you a higher or lower EFC than the Federal Methodology.
Is there a "methodology" to this madness? The short answer is: Yes. The Institutional Methodology (unlike the Federal Methodology) figures in such additional assets as the value of your home's equity, assets in siblings' names and the value of any prepaid tuition plans you may hold. It also adds back into your income certain losses you claimed on your tax return.
Now for some good, easy-to-understand news: Colleges that use the Institutional Methodology will often be open to negotiation. We'll talk about negotiation strategies in future issues of this newsletter, so stay tuned! There are also some little known tax-favored strategies you can use to pay your "EFC" (College Co-pay) without significantly increasing your monthly overhead. If you'd like more information on how these strategies work, or would like us to design a "College Co-pay Plan" tailored specifically to your needs, please call our office to schedule a FREE consultation.
For now, though, let's turn our attention to the Acknowledgment Form, which you should receive in the mail from the College Scholarship Service (CSS) if you filed a Financial Aid Profile (FAP) form. That brings us to...
Step #3: - Check For Mistakes On The CSS Profile Acknowledgement Form!
As with the SAR, you'll need to check for any mistakes on the Acknowledgment Form and immediately report them to the CSS. Remember,
It's Your Responsibility To Correct All Mistakes On These Forms!
That's true even if you did not make the mistake. So be vigilant and look over everything you receive and send out in the mail.
Step #4: - Contact Financial Aid Offices To See If They Need Additional Information!
Now that you have reviewed the SAR and, if applicable, the CSS Acknowledgment Form, it's time to take the next essential step in the process of maximizing your funding prospects.
Some financial aid officers will contact you for more information, such as completed tax returns, savings or investment statements, or other documents. But if you don't get any such requests, don't assume that the officers have everything they need. Take the initiative. Call the financial aid officer at each college and university to which your child has applied. Ask if they need any additional details, figures or data. If so, supply the information immediately.
Again, if you need help or instructions about supplying more information, contact us right away. We can assist you and help you make the most of your efforts.
Step #5: - Make Sure All Schools You're Applying To Have Received A Copy Of Your SAR!
Next, you'll want to make sure that each college and university on your child's list has a copy of your SAR. If not (or if your college-bound youngster applies to an additional school after you've submitted the preliminary paperwork), add the missing school(s) to the SAR or call the school and ask them how they want you to handle the situation.
Step #6: - Understand The Verification Process!
Don't sweat a request for verification. You may be notified that your application has been selected for verification. Federal law requires colleges to randomly verify at least a third of all financial aid applications; some schools decide to verify even more than the required percentage. You must comply, or you'll lose the chance of receiving financial aid. But don't get distraught. Simply supply the requested information, which may include documentation of your income or taxes.
Now Comes The Exciting Part Of The Process!
If you've followed all these steps, you should start receiving financial aid award letters starting in April or May.
But what happens if you've inadvertently missed a step? Or if you still haven't even completed or returned your FAFSA?
Don't push the panic button! We still may be able to help you maximize your eligibility for college funding, or at the very least, show you how to pay for college on a tax-favored basis. We can also help if you're confused by any part of the process, intimidated, or afraid of making a mistake. And, of course, you can feel free to call us at 631-864-3688 if you simply have a question about anything we've discussed in this issue.
That's also the number to call for a schedule of our upcoming FREE College Funding Workshops in your area. And, if you'd like more no-cost information, call our toll-free, 24-hour financial aid hotline at 800-799-0627 to order our Free Report, "7 New Ways to Beat the High Cost of College."
Well, that covers it for this month. Until next month...
Jan and Tony Esposito
P.S. Visit our updated website at www.Collegechannel.net