FAFSA — five letters that compel any parent of a college-bound student to cringe with anxiety. Yet despite its negative connotation, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway to making college affordable for many families.
The FAFSA is one service offered by the office of Federal Student Aid, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. The form is a comprehensive document that details financial factors, such as the income and assets of your family, how many of your children are currently in college, and so on.
The intent here is for the government to determine the difference between what your child’s education will cost and what your family can afford. This information is then shared with the schools to which your child is applying, and the individual institutions determine which types of aid she will receive.
Making sure that your child gets all the aid she deserves is a stressful prospect. You don’t want to overlook any aspect of your family’s finances that may be useful in making college more affordable, and you certainly don’t want to miss any deadlines because you had a hard time preparing these documents.
We’ve provided a checklist to help you sort out what you need to get ready:
Your most recent tax returns are crucial for the entire financial aid process. According to Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst with New America’s Education Policy Program, if the student is under 24, “even parents who don’t plan on helping pay for college need to fill out their income information as their child is considered a dependent." Students, too, need to provide their tax return information if they filed the previous year.
According to the FAFSA website, you will be asked to declare your (and if married, your spouse’s) net worth. This is calculated by subtracting the amount owed for any investments from their value. These investments include any real estate other than the home in which you currently live, trust funds, mutual funds, stocks and bonds, and so on.
Not included in these investments is “cash, savings and checking accounts, or the value of life insurance and retirement plans."
In addition to any investments you may have, if you received untaxed income or benefits, such disability or worker’s compensation, you’ll have to report it. This does not, however, include student aid, welfare payments, or untaxed Social Security benefits.
Each student who fills out the FAFSA form will be issued a Federal Student Aid PIN. If you have not already done so, visit this site to obtain a PIN.
To get the process underway, you’ll also need to provide your and your student’s SSN. Be sure to keep these atop the packet of information you’ve compiled.
Filling out your financial aid forms can seem like a daunting task. Having all of your ducks — or documents — in a row will make the process more manageable so that you and your student can focus less on the forms and more on the joys of choosing a college.
"The Office of Federal Student Aid." About Us. Federal Student Aid, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. From The Office of Federal Student Aid.