Before College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

It’s best to begin your College Finance Plan’s (CFP’s) “Before College” phase when your child is born, if not before. But don’t give up if you didn’t. Instead, get going as soon as you can.

Consider initiating these strategies as your student gets closer and closer to college:

Birth through Junior High:

  • Invest and Save. Let time multiply your money, even if you can only put away a little. For example, a $50 month deposit into a 1% savings account beginning at birth will yield $14,820 through college commencement.
  • Prepare Your Child to Pursue Scholarships. Some scholarships are awarded IMG_9375based on grades and test scores, some stress essay and interview responses, and others go to students with strong resumes. So help your student do well academically, develop verbal and written communication skills, and persist in extracurricular and leadership activities she enjoys.
  • Identify a General Career Direction. He needn’t decide on cardiovascular surgery by age 15, but helping him develop in broad subject areas about which he’s passionate can save your student from being among the 80% who change majors — some two or three times — generating extra costs for extra courses.

High School through Junior Year

High School Senior Year:

  • Apply for Aid. Filing the FAFSA is a necessity. If your student’s seeking institutional or state aid, too, other application forms may be required.
  • Analyze Affordability When Selecting a College. Public data can help project what you’ll pay for a degree from each school to which your student is accepted.
  • Select a Good Fit. Fit helps reduce the chances of your student transferring, which amplifies tuition costs for repeating courses not accepted by his new school.

Why implement a College Finance Plan? Go to “Before, During, and After College: You Need a Plan!” for answers. A review of “During College” strategies will be posted on this website October 2, and “After College” strategies will be outlined here October 9. More in-depth discussions of individual strategies can be found here through the end of academic year 2017-18.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for free help if you have questions about your CFP.

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Before and During College: Beginning October 1, File Your 2018-19 FAFSA ASAP!

IMG_8872If you’ll have a student in college between July 2018 and June 2019, apply for financial aid on October 1 or as soon thereafter as possible. That’s when the 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) first becomes available to you on the government’s secure FAFSA website.

Why hurry? Regardless of institutional FAFSA deadlines, some schools quietly use FAFSA submission dates to determine the order in which they award institutional grants and scholarships, so those submitting FAFSAs early may have a better shot at these limited funds. Also, if your FAFSA data are selected for verification, early submission gives you more time to gather and supply documents you need.

No worries if your student doesn’t yet know where she’ll attend college next year. She can direct her FAFSA to 10 different institutions, and more later if needed.

The 2018-19 FAFSA needs 2016 federal 1040 data. The easiest, most accurate way to get this is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). For 2018-19, there’ll be an opportunity to do this in the FAFSA’s student and parent Financial Information sections.

If you previously submitted a FAFSA but your student qualified for nothing but federal loans, why submit again? Two reasons. First, even small changes in your family and financial situations can impact eligibility for need-based grants, scholarships, and part-time work study jobs. Second, your student won’t re-qualify for past loan awards without a new FAFSA.

There are online answers to various FAFSA questions you may have including, but not limited to:

All colleges require the FAFSA, but some may require other forms to apply for state or institutional aid. Check on this with the financial aid office wherever your student may attend.

Two final notes:IMG_8873

  • If you don’t yet have an FSA ID, you’ll need it to do the FAFSA. Establish it at FAFSA.ed.gov.
  • Be sure to do your FAFSA at FAFSA.ed.gov. Otherwise, you may get scammed into paying a fee to submit this free form.

Hard to believe it’s already time to apply for next year’s financial aid, isn’t it? But remember, the early bird gets the worm . . . and better yet, the financial aid!

College Affordability Solutions brings 40 years experience to advising families on issues related to financial aid. Got questions? Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-fee consultation.

Special Bulletin: Proposed Federal Budget Would Reportedly Makes Big Cuts in Programs for College Students and Graduates

The Washington Post reports it has received what a U.S. Education Department staff member described as “near final” documents showing the administration will IMG_6510recommend a 13.6% reduction in federal education spending next week. The budget proposal would reportedly affect federal financial assistance for college students as follows:

  • Child Care for Enrolled Parents: End a $15 million program helping to make child care affordable for low-income parents attending college.
  • Federal Direct Subsidized Loans: Make as yet unannounced cuts that could end this program, which currently serves financially needy students. If this happens, all federal loans for such students would be unsubsidized and begin compiling interest the day they are made — significantly increasing student borrowing costs.
  • Federal Pell Grants: Hold Pell Grants for the nation’s neediest undergraduates at their current levels ($606 to $5,920 for fall and spring combined). Due to inflation, this would decrease Pell’s future “purchasing power.” Some good news is that the budget would fund an extension of 2017’s summer Pell Grants in future years.
  • Federal Work-Study (FWS): Cut FWS funding by $490 million (almost half), significantly reducing federally subsidized on and off-campus jobs that financially needy students use to pay for college.
  • Income-Driven Repayment: Close down all current income-driven repayment plans available to federal college loan borrowers. These plans offer loan forgiveness for balances remaining after borrowers pay 10% to 20% of their incomes over 20 to 25 year periods. They would be replaced with a new income-driven option requiring payments equal to 12.5% of income and limiting loan forgiveness to balances still outstanding after 30 years of such payments.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Eliminate PSLF, which offers tax-free debt cancellation on federal student loan balances owed by ex-students in public service jobs after 10 years of on-time payment. Over 550,000 federal, state, local, and nonprofit employees are already registered for PSLF. It’s not yet clear whether they or public servants not yet registered would be cut off from It.IMG_6511

Presidents propose federal budgets, but Congress ultimately decides them. So if you support or oppose any of these proposed cuts, call or write your U.S. representative and senators to tell them how you feel.

College Affordability Solutions will post more bulletins on this website as additional information becomes available.

Special Bulletin: Status of IRS Data Retrieval Tool

A key tool used by students seeking financial aid borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans on their federal student loans is still offline. However, a new government announcement outlines a schedule for getting it back up and running.

In March, the government shut down the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), expressing concerns about the need for extra system security. Here’s where things are now according to a recent status announcement from the U.S. Department of Education —

DRT in October for Student Financial Aid Applicants: For the next 5 months, students will need to keep finding and using recent federal tax returns for themselves and their parents in order to accurately complete their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAs). The government’s announcement says it’ll be October 1 when a new, more secure DRT will become available to them.

DRT on May 31 for Student Loan Borrowers: Parents and ex-students seeking to certify their eligibility for one of the 4 federal student loan income-driven repayment plans will again be able to access to the DRT beginning May 31, the announcement says. Until then, they’ll need to keep submitting alternative documentation when applying for these plans. Alternative documentation could be paper copies of their federal tax returns or pay stubs.

If and when more information about this problem becomes available, College Affordability Solutions will post another bulletin.

Before College: May 1 is Right Around the Corner!

May 1 is just 34 days away. That’s the deadline for paying a nonrefundable enrollment deposit to hold a spot at the 4-year college your student decides to attend this fall. When it comes to affordability, there’s much to do.

(1) Award Letter: Be sure your student has his financial aid offer from each school he’s considering. If a school’s award letter hasn’t arrived yet, make sure you’ve completed verification (if the school required it), then contact the financial aid office to request one IMG_5726ASAP.

(2) Outside Aid: If you know about scholarships your student’s getting from parties outside the school, report them to the aid office right away. Not doing so will freeze financial aid once the school learns of these awards, because it’s required to determine that the aid it awarded isn’t affected by outside scholarships. Should reductions be required, schools usually cut loans, then work-study and, last, grants or scholarships.

(3) Appeal: File a financial aid appeal ASAP if it might lower your student’s Expected Family Contribution and qualify her for more need-based aid. The aid office can tell you how.

(4) Affordability Analysis: Evaluate the affordability of each school under consideration.

First, use the “Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” on the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website to calculate annual growth in the average cost of attending a school over the last four year. Multiply the school’s 2017-18 costs by this average for each of the next four years to project your student’s 4-year cost.

Now project the financial aid to be received over four years. Some institutional grants and scholarships are for one year only, so be sure to differentiate between them and 4-year IMG_5659awards. And watch out for schools that practice bait and switch. Assume federal and state grant amounts will remain constant each year. Keep your borrowing assumptions within annual federal loan limits.

Subtract your 4-year financial aid projection from your 4-year cost projection. Now the big question — can you and your student cover the remaining gap? If so, keep that school on the list for consideration. If not, it may have to be dropped.

(5) Fit: Fit is absolutely critical. If a college or major doesn’t work for your student, chances are he’ll transfer, which’ll increase the cost of his degree. So consider fit carefully.

Need help analyzing the affordability of the colleges your student is considering? Contact College Affordability Solutions by email at collegeafford@gmail.com or by phone at (512) 366-5354.

Before College: Should You File a Financial Aid Appeal?

Your 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — despite all the information it collects, it can’t cover everything. It doesn’t gather unusual information that could impact your student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — the key to determining his eligibility for financial aid awarded on the basis of financial need.

Since 2015 ended, did you suffer:

  • A big income loss — a layoff or employment termination — that’s still affecting IMG_5702you; or
  • Any major uninsured medical expenses in 2015, 2016, or 2017; or
  • Similarly unavoidable financial problems?

If so, appeal. These may lower your student’s EFC, qualifying her for more need-based aid.

The financial aid office can tell you how to do an appeal. You’ll no doubt be asked to file it in writing and to provide documents proving your income reduction, medical bills, or other financial losses. Why? Because parties funding your student’s need-based aid often audit EFCs. If they’re not convinced that your student’s EFC is correct, the school becomes liable for need-based aid it gives him in excess of his resulting financial need.

DOG_ATTACKKeep copies of the documents you submitted with your appeal. You might need to them to respond to follow-up questions from the aid office.

Because there are so many appeals at this time of year, file yours as soon as possible to give the aid office’s staff sufficient time to review it and make a determination before May 1. That’s when your student must make a go/no-go decision about which 4-year college in which she’ll enroll next fall, and you don’t want this decision made without knowing her financial aid situation.

If your student’s EFC should be changed, the aid office will tell your student. And should additional need-based aid still be available, it’ll send him a revised financial aid award letter showing changes in such aid.

Remember, the EFC can’t be lowered for small, optional, or routine financial matters. A successful appeal will document that your situation is exceptional and unavoidable — e.g. medical bills aren’t for something like elective cosmetic surgery. It’ll also demonstrate that your situation significantly impacts your ability to help pay your student’s college costs — i.e. the loss you’ve suffered costs more than just a few hundred dollars.

If you meet these criteria, file an appeal ASAP. It could make a difference!

Questions about the financial aid process? Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retieval Tool for FAFSA Not Working

Hopefully you filed your 2017-18 FAFSA many weeks or months ago. If you haven’t filed it yet, you’re going to hit a snag just as we reach many college and state deadlines for getting priority to receive various forms of financial aid.

The IRS has announced that it, “. . . decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

The DRT is the mechanism through which most students ensure that key fields on their Free Applications for Student Financial Aid (FAFSAs) are accurately populated with data. FAFSA information is used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and colleges to determine how much need-based financial aid students may receive for IMG_56692017-18.

While the DRT has worked well in past years, nobody knows when it will begin operating again for 2017-18 FAFSAs. Some colleges and states are changing their FAFSA priority deadlines because of this failure. In Texas, for example, the state is allowing colleges to suspend its March 15 deadline. So check with the school(s) your student may attend during the upcoming academic year.

If necessary, get a copy of your 2015 federal tax returns out of your records and manually enter data required by the FAFSA. Do this as soon as you can because, if you miss the school or state’s FAFSA priority deadline, your student will go to the end of the line for certain grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study awards.

College Affordability Solutions will publish another special bulletin when the DRT is back up and running.