A Year of College Affordability Solutions

College Affordability Solutions is dedicated to helping families keep higher education spending within their means. It uses this website to highlight postsecondary educational cost-management strategies at the times of the year when you and/or your student are most likely to need them.

21-of-the-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-amer-2-20243-1428837186-9_dblbigDespite those who’ll try to talk your student out of college, postsecondary education is still worthwhile even if he or she has to borrow to pay for it. But student loans increase the cost of college, so do everything possible to minimize their use.

Over the last year, we’ve covered several approaches to keeping college and college-related debt affordable. Click on any of the links below to learn more . . .

Before College

Various investment and savings programs can help you prepare for college bills. Among these are 529 plans and college savings bonds, but you should explore them all – the sooner the better.

And be sure to apply for financial for every year of college. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 but, by all means, before your FAFSA priority deadline arrives.

Student dependency status plays a big role in who completes the FAFSA. Other family factors do, too. But it isn’t as hard to complete as you’ve heard, especially if you fulfill 5 key steps, gather all the documents you need, and get answers to your last-minute FAFSA questions before doing so.

Long before the FAFSA, your student needs to begin aggressively searching for scholarships. It’s critical to know about the when and where and the how of doing this.

Pay close attention after you file your FAFSA to make sure you handle what happens next. Then carefully assess your financial aid offers as they arrive from colleges.

But it’s not all about financial aid and scholarships. A critical factor in college affordability is for your student to enroll in a college and major that fits him or her well.

During College

Once college begins, you can help your student keep his or her expenses within reason.140815_FF_BestCollegeCard Limited spending and indebtedness is important even with today’s low college loan interest rates.

Some of the most effective strategies for minimizing student borrowing include your student getting through college in 4 years or less while carefully managing money and avoiding rip offs such as the recent “student tax” scam. A little-known but highly-effective cost-saver involves returning unneeded federal loan dollars with 4 months of disbursement.

Help your student keep college more affordable by giving him or her some holiday gifts that’ll lower his or her reduce expenses upon returning to school and by recommending he or she generate funds through seasonal employment instead of borrowing.

After College

Seven out of 10 students borrow before earning their degrees, and over 90% of their loans come from federal loan programs. Fortunately, the government has designed  post-graduation strategies to help keep educational debt manageable.


Your student needs to understand what happens to college loans after graduation. It’s worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of student loan consolidation, an often-used tactic for reducing monthly debt payments. Equally important is knowing how your student might qualify for forgiveness on all or part of what he or she owes.

Coming in 2017

We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but beginning January 4 we’ll start publishing again about plans for keeping college affordable. Here’s hoping you have the happiest of holiday seasons, and that you’ll rejoin us then!

 Find out more about College Affordability Solutions and its services at https://collegeafford.com, or by calling (512) 366-5354.

What’s Needed to Complete the FAFSA?

What do you need to do to prepare to fill out the 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? Now’s the time to figure this out because, for various reasons, it’s best to complete this form, which becomes available October 1, ASAP.th1niaeztl

Hopefully you know by now whether parental as well as student data needs to go on the FAFSA. Next, make sure you have the following for each person whose data will be reported via your student’s FAFSA:

(1) FSA ID: The Federal Student Aid Identification Number (FSA ID) is the username and password you and your student can use to access government websites containing 54d94514757c4-imagepersonal, private federal financial aid data. You’ll need it to fill out and electronically sign your FAFSA on the Web — the fastest and easiest way to complete a FAFSA. If you don’t already have your FSA ID, you’ll get it about 3 days after requesting it, so apply now!

(2) Key Personal Numbers: The FAFSA needs your student’s social security and driver’s license numbers. If parental data goes on the FAFSA, you’ll also need the social security number of each parent whose data is reported. If the student and/or parent isn’t a U.S. citizen but is eligible for federal student aid, you’ll need their Alien Registration Number.

(3) 2015 Tax Information: The 2017-18 FAFSA will use 2015 federal tax return data. To have the IRS load these numbers right onto your FAFSA, complete the IRS Data Retrieval Tool link in your FAFSA on the Web. This is the most accurate, easy, rapid, and secure way to load these numbers. Otherwise, you’ll need copies of all your 2015 federal tax forms.

(4) Asset Information: The FAFSA asks for the net worth of assets — your student’s assets and, if he or she is a dependent student, the net worth of his or her parental assets. The 2017-18 FAFSA needs these values as of the date it’s completed.

(5) 2015 Untaxed Income Data: In 2015, did any untaxed income go to the student or parent(s) who’ll fill out the FAFSA? If so, gather up the documents you need to determine untaxed income amounts, because you’ll need to itemize these figures on your 2017-18 FAFSA.thru24h2vb

The 2017-18 FAFSA becomes available on the web at midnight October 1. Take these and you can fill it out in less than 30 minutes. So get ready!

Coming September 29 — “Last Minute FAFSA Q & As.”

College Affordability Solutions has the expertise needed to coach you on completing the FAFSA. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford.com for help.

Who Completes the FAFSA?


The first issue to resolve in getting ready to complete the 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that’ll be available October 1 is to figure out who needs to put their information on it.

Of course, the FAFSA always requires the student’s data. Things get a bit complicated after that; but that’s because there are so many different family circumstances in today’s American society. Essentially, questions about who completes the FAFSA are determined by the student’s dependency upon mom and dad and by mom and dad’s marital situation and living arrangements.

Dependent Students

In general, undergraduates younger than 24 are considered “dependent” students for theuntitled purposes of student financial aid. On the 2017-18 FAFSA, any student born after 1993 is a dependent student unless that students fits one of the other conditions that define “Independent Students” (see below). Such a student’s FAFSA must include data from the student’s parent(s).

Legal Parents of Dependent Students: The FAFSA requires data about both of the student’s “legal” parents if they’re married or unmarried. A legal parent who’s widowed or who never married must list only his or her data must on the FAFSA.

What’s a legal parent? It’s the student’s adoptive parent, biological parent, or parent as defined by state law. This means no data are required for foster parents, grandparents, legal guardians, and other relatives who house and/or support a student.

Custodial Parents of Dependent Students: If the student’s parents are legally separated or divorced and not living together, data for the “custodial” parent should go on the FAFSA. This is whichever parent the student lived most during the last 12 months. If that’s a tie, the custodial parent is then the one who provided more financial support to the student during the last 12 month period in which the student received money from mom and/or dad.

If legally separated or divorced parents are living together, both their data need to go on the FAFSA. And if a divorced custodial parent gets married again, his or her new spouse is considered a stepparent. Stepparent data must also go on the FAFSA.

Same-Sex Parents: Under a recent Supreme Court decision, same sex couples legally married in a state or foreign country are considered legal parents regardless of where they now live or their student goes to college. Likewise, a new same-sex spouse who’s legally married to a divorced parent is considered a stepparent. Both same-sex parents and stepparents in legal marriages must report their data on the FAFSA.

Independent Students

Besides being born after 1993, a student reaches “independent” status, and no parental data need be on his or her FAFSA, if the student is:

  • Going to be a graduate or professional student when academic year 2017-18 begins; or
  • As of the date his or her FAFSA is submitted:wedding-young-marrieds
    • Married (in which case the spouse’s data must be put on the FAFSA with the student’s data); or
    • Someone who, from July 2017 through June 2018, will supply over half the support to his or her children, spouse, or someone else who lives with him of her; or
    • On active duty with the U.S. armed forces (including national guard and reserve enlistees) for purposes other than training; or
    • A veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

Under certain conditions, the FAFSA also treats a student as independent if he or she is a dependent or ward of the court, in foster care, an emancipated minor, under a legal guardianship, a homeless unaccompanied youth, or a self-supporting youth at risk of being homeless.

The Federal Student Aid Information Center is open 7 days a week to help you if you have questions related to the 2017-18 FAFSA.

Coming September 22 – “What’s Needed to Complete the FAFSA?”

College Affordability Solutions can also help you with FAFSA questions. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com if you need help.

Is Your Student Dependent or Independent?

A reader recently asked about being treated as dependent on or independent when it comes to financial aid. What does it matter, he asked, and how is it decided?

Federal and state programs provide 70% of our nation’s financial aid. They use taxpayer dollars to help students cover their college expenses. But there has long been a national consensus that the student’s family ought to pay as much of these costs as it can before the hard-earned tax dollars of its friends and neighbors are used to help it’s children.

So the big question becomes, “who is the student’s family?” For decades federal law has answered:

  • The student and his or her parents, if the student is financially dependentupon those parents; or
  • The student alone — or the student and spouse, if the student is married — if the student is financially independentof mom and dad.

Years ago, the law treated a student as independent if the parents were willing to increase their taxable income (and their federal income tax) by not claiming that student as a tax exemption. Congress found that many affluent parents chose to pass on claiming children in college because their families would qualify for more financial aid than they saved on their taxes. As a result, the “exemption test” gave way to an alternative set of circumstances under which Congress concluded it’s unreasonable to expect parents to support their children. With a few additional exceptions, these include being:

  • 24 or older as of January 1 of the school year to which the student’s FAFSA applies; or
  • A graduate student; or
  • Married; or
  • A parent with his or her own children; or
  • Someone with his or her own dependents; or
  • In the military; or
  • A veteran.

Any student meeting any one of these conditions is classified as an independent student. Parental finances are not reported on the student’s FAFSA and not used to determine the student’s “Expected Family Contribution (EFC)” — i.e. what the family is considered to be able to devote to the student’s college expenses by marshaling every dollar it possibly can for that purpose.

If none of the circumstances listed above describe the student, than he or she is treated as a dependent student for financial aid purposes. The FAFSA collects this student’s parental data, and those data are used to establish the student’s EFC, thereby positioning the student and parents, not other Americans, to act as the “first payer” of the student’s higher education expenses.

College Affordability Solutions provides a variety of services to the parents of current and prospective college students, including advising about how to complete the FAFSA. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com to learn more.