Before and During College: Do Your 2020-21 FAFSA in Just Six More Days!

October 1 is just six days away! If you or your child will need financial aid to pay postsecondary education expenses during academic year 2020-21 this date is a crucial.

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is scheduled to make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also know as the FAFSA-on-the-Web — the nation’s primary financial aid application — available on October 1, and you need to complete and submit this form then or as soon thereafter as possible.

Why submit your FAFSA so early? Because:

  1. Many states and postsecondary schools use FAFSA submission dates to set priorities for making awards from sources with limited funding — e.g. state and institutional grants and scholarships;
  2. It positions you for early financial aid offers from schools that make such offers, giving you more time to compare their affordability;
  3. You’ll also get more time to review, correct, and update (here) your FAFSA data on the Student Aid Report (SAR) that’ll be made available to you soon after your FAFSA-on-the-Web’s processed; and
  4. Finally, Louisiana and Texas now require almost all their students to complete and submit the FAFSA in order to graduate from high school, and more states may soon add this requirement.

Ensure your FAFSA-on-the-Web is complete and accurate when you hit the button to submit it. Toward this end, you need to know whether it’ll require parental information because you’re a dependent student. In general, such students were born after January 1, 1997, are unmarried undergraduates without dependents, and aren’t in the U.S. military or military veterans (see more here).

You’ll also need certain information to put on the 2020-21 FAFSA-on-the-Web for you and any parent who’ll sign it. This includes:

  • Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID usernames and passwords (click here to create them, if necessary);
  • Social Security numbers or, for non-U.S citizens, Alien Registration numbers;
  • Driver’s License number, if you have one;
  • 2018 Federal Income Tax Returns, W-2 Forms, and other earnings records;
  • Most current bank statements and investment records;
  • Records of untaxed income; and
  • Federal School Code for each postsecondary institution you may attend in 2020-21 (look them up here).

Forget the horror stories about how long and hard it is to do the FAFSA. It’s much faster and easier than ever if you take the steps described above. So be sure your FAFSA is complete and submitted as soon as possible on or after October 1 — you have nothing to loose and everything to gain!

Need help completing your FAFSA? College Affordability Solutions is available for free consultations at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Before College: Don’t Let Price Considerations Force Private Schools Off Your List of Potential Colleges — At Least Not Yet!

Anna and Nathan are twins who finished their college freshman year last spring. To protect their institutions, let’s just say that Anna attended University A — a private college receiving no state subsidies — while Nathan enrolled in state-supported public University B.

The total cost — tuition, fees, room, board, books, etc. — for an undergraduate at these universities is vastly different. Last year, it was $52,000 at University A but half that at University B.

Still Anna’s net price — what she and her parents paid after the grants and scholarships she received — was just under $12,000. Nathan’s was a bit above $18,000.

They’re from the same middle-income household, so both qualify for similar federal and state grant amounts. The difference is their scholarships — in this case, institutional scholarships. University A, with a smaller student body but significantly larger endowment, awarded Anna over $30,000 in institutional scholarships. Meanwhile, Nathan got just a $2,500 scholarship from University B. And Universities A and B aren’t the only private and public institutions where these counterintuitive price difference exist.

But there are also well-endowed private colleges and universities whose net prices are much higher than those of their state-supported counterparts. You’ll never know for sure until financial aid offers begin coming in, some of which come as late as next March or April for academic year 2020-21’s prospective freshmen.

The moral is this — don’t cross private universities off your college application list simply because their published total costs are higher than those of public institutions on that list, for private schools may surprise you with large tuition discounts in the form of significant institutional scholarships.

What can you do to improve your chances of winning institutional scholarships at any college or university? Here are some pointers:

  • File Your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Early: The 2020-21 FAFSA becomes available October 1. Next Wednesday you’ll find out how to prepare to complete and submit it on that day or soon thereafter.
  • File the Institution’s Scholarship Application Form As Soon As Possible: Many colleges use their own scholarship applications to supplement the FAFSA. If so, be thorough but timely in submitting them.
  • Apply to Institutions That Are Good Academic Matches for You: If they’re good for you, you may be the sort of student that’s good for them. Anna, wanted to major in music, and was her high school’s leading pianist. University A’s highly rated music department was seeking talented young pianists, so some of Anna’s institutional scholarship dollars came from that department.

Never pick a school that’s unaffordable or a bad match for you. But right now is to early to narrow your options based on cost!

For more pre-college strategies to help keep the net price of your postsecondary education affordable, contact College Affordability Solutions at (512)366-5354 or at collegeafford@gmail.com.

During and After College: Prepare To Fight for Your Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness!

The U.S. Education Department (ED) continues to block federal student loan forgiveness for public servants who qualify — i.e. those who’ve faithfully made 10 years of monthly payments toward their Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) debts.

Congress authorized the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program in 2007 to help recruit well-educated millennial replacements for millions of baby boomers scheduled to retire from government and nonprofit jobs. But the Trump administration was running ED by 2017, when qualified borrowers began applying for forgiveness. And Trump’s ED despises PSLF. Last December, its Principal Deputy Undersecretary reportedly said PSLF is a disaster ED doesn’t support.

ED and FedLoan, its PSLF contractor, denied PSLF to thousands. Last year ED’s own statistics showed that 99.5% of PSLF applicants had been rejected. So in 2018 Congress created a fix, authorizing $700 million for a Temporarily Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) Program. TEPSLF qualifies otherwise eligible public servants for forgiveness after 120 monthly payments made under any FDLP repayment plan, not just certain plans as required by PSLF.

But last week, the non-partisan General Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 99% of TEPSLF applicants had been denied forgiveness. It found that:

  • Over 70% of those who requested TEPSLF by sending FedLoan the emails it requires didn’t attach their PSLF Forgiveness Applications or PSLF Employment Certification Forms. There’s so much confusion surrounding these forms that it’s clear applicants aren’t well-informed about them;
  • 12% of TEPSLF denials were because borrowers hadn’t yet spent 120 months making full, on-time payments or working the right jobs;
  • When TEPSLF applicants are denied, they’re never told how to contest their denials; and
  • TEPSLF forgiveness for the 1% who’ve gotten it averages about $41,000; but $653 million remain for TEPLSF to forgive other public servants’ FDLP loans.

So if you do or will qualify for TEPSLF, you may have to fight for debt forgiveness to which you’re entitled as long as Trump appointees run ED — and maybe longer! Here’s to prepare for that:

  1. Be sure you fully understand exactly what you must do to get TEPSLF — i.e. all TEPSLF eligibility criteria and required forms. This information is available through FedLoan’s and ED’s PSLF websites;
  2. Keep a copy of every form, email, and letter you send FedLoan. Use the Postal Service’s tracking function for anything you mail FedLoan and print, file, and keep the tracking function’s feedback to prove FedLoan received what you mailed;
  3. Keep clear, thorough notes — names, dates, times, discussion content, etc. — on every phone conversation you have with FedLoan or ED; and
  4. If you’re wrongly denied, appeal through ED’s Federal Student Aid Feedback System or Ombudsperson.

Sadly, you must assume Trump’s ED and it’s contractor are opposed to you getting the loan forgiveness you deserve under law. So these steps may be invaluable if you ever need help from your congressmen or to sue ED.

Need help understanding what you need to know about student loan repayment or forgiveness? College Affordability Solutions is available for free consultations at (512) 533-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Before College: Hey High School Seniors! If You’re Not Already Searching for College Scholarships, You Should Be!

Jacob just began his high school senior year. He and his parents recently consulted us about raising the money he needs for a quality college.

Mom and dad can help, but their means are limited, so Jacob needs government grants and loans, summer jobs, and part-time work during the academic year to go to school.

Scholarships would be a big help. They’re the largest source of free money for college, providing as much as three times the amount available in federal grants!

But Jacob hasn’t looked for scholarships. This means he’s about six months behind his more scholarship-savvy classmates. Notifications about scholarship opportunities began coming out this past spring, and fall of the senior year is the key time to apply for them.

Why hasn’t he looked? “I’m just a C+ student,” he said, “I play football and soccer, but I don’t start. Why should I bother looking for scholarships?”

And that’s the biggest myth about scholarships — that they’re limited to academic and athletic stars. They’re not. Scholarships also go to students who meet a wide range of eligibility criteria including, but not limited to:

  • Student community, extracurricular, and leadership activities;
  • Student interest in various college majors and careers;
  • Parent or student membership in various civic organizations, churches, labor unions; and
  • Residence in cities, counties, and towns served by one of America’s millions of charitable foundations.

Where should Jacob begin his scholarship search? There are two places to visit right right away, and keep visiting through high school graduation:

  • High School Counselor’s Office: It receives notices about scholarships throughout the year. It organizes the in file cabinets, notebooks, or online for students to access them; and
  • Scholarship Search Engines: These national internet databases use student-created profiles to generate lists of scholarships for which students are eligible. Students won’t win every scholarship on their lists, but they should apply for all of them because they’re at least qualified candidates.

Free scholarship search engines are the ones to use. Some of the biggest are College Board, Fastweb, and Scholarships.com. But be warned, many search engines sell student profile data to merchants, so resist the adds you’ll get for products you don’t use or can’t afford.

There’s no single database or application for scholarships. As a result, students have to invest lots of time searching and applying for them. But think of it this way — every scholarship dollar won is one less student loan dollar to borrow. And at today’s interest rates, every student loan dollar borrowed can cost up to $2.05 to repay.

So what are you waiting for? Get busy! Start your scholarship search today!

Need pointers about seeking and applying for college scholarships? Students and their parents may consult College Affordability Solutions for free. Contact us by calling (512) 366-5354 or emailing collegeafford@gmail.com.