Before and During College: Everything You Need to Know to Do Your FAFSA on October 1!


IMG_5009The 2019-20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available in less than 5 days — at 12:00 midnight on October 1. If you’ll need college money for an academic term beginning July 2019 through June 2020, complete your FAFSA right on October 1 . . . or as soon thereafter as possible.

Why? Some postsecondary schools quietly use your FAFSA completion date to determine where you fall in line for getting awards. Also, you’ll need extra time to prove the accuracy of your FAFSA data if it’s selected for verification. And some schools and states set early FAFSA completion deadlines.

FAFSAs are required for federal and state aid, many institutional awards, and some private scholarships, so rapid FAFSA completion gives you a better shot at aid from programs with limited funds.

Here are links to everything you need to know for your 2019-20 FAFSA:

Whose data go on the FAFSA? The student’s? Always. The student’s spouse? Yes, if still married to the student. The student’s parents? Yes, if the student’s a dependent student. Which parent if they’re divorced or separated? The U.S. Education Department (ED) has a checklist to help you figure that out.

What do you need to get a FAFSA? Any student or parent whose data goes on the FAFSA needs a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which you can create right now on ED’s FSA ID web site.

How do you access your FAFSA? Use FAFSA on the Web to complete it IMG_5011from your smart phone, tablet or desktop computer. This is the easiest way to do it, because the online FAFSA skips questions you don’t need to answer. You can print out and mail in a paper FAFSA, but that’ll slow down your FAFSA’s completion.

What’s needed to complete your FAFSA? ED has guidance about the personal information you need to put on your FAFSA, plus a list of documents that’ll supply the financial data it needs. Finally, you can list 1 – 10 postsecondary schools to receive your FAFSA information so they can consider you for financial aid. Go to ED’s school listings to do this.

How do you get help understanding FAFSA questions? Online FAFSAs have blue and white question marks linked to tips for every question. Paper FAFSAs have 4 pages of notes with all these tips.

IMG_5086How can you avoid making mistakes? Read ED’s blog on 11 common FAFSA mistakes, then double check to make sure you’ve avoided these errors.

What’s next? To find out, read ED’s description of what happens after you submit your completed FAFSA.

So be accurate, be complete, and get your FAFSA going on October 1!

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you need help completing your FAFSA, or for other no-charge consultations on ways to make college more affordable.

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, or by calling (512) 366-5354.

Last Minute FAFSA Q & As

Hope you’re ready to do your 2017-18 FAFSA when it becomes available October 1 . . . 2016-calendar-october-free-vector-2

Q-1. May my 2017-18 FAFSA serve as my aid application for academic year 2016-17?

A-1. No. The only way the government and schools know the academic year for which you’re applying is the FAFSA you submit. The 2016-17 FAFSA is still available. If you’ve not yet done it and if your student will be enrolled before July 1, 2017, send it in. If you’re seeking aid to enroll in/after July of 2017, you’ll need to complete the 2017-18 FAFSA.

Q-2. Our finances are very complicated and our 2015 tax return isn’t yet final. May we still submit a 2017-18 FAFSA?

A-2. Yes. Complete it with estimated data. Once your 2015 tax return is final, go to FAFSA-on-the-Web and replace those estimates with actual data.

Q-3. There’s another form called the College Board Profile. Should I complete and submit it in addition to a FAFSA?

A-3. Only if a college or university to which you’re applying specifically requests it. The Profile collects additional financial information that some schools use to award their institutional aid. Unlike the FAFSA, it’s not free, so no need to use it unless a school asks for it.

no_feesQ-4. I found a FAFSA website that wants me to pay a fee to complete and submit my FAFSA. Is this OK?

A-4. No! Go to and submit your FAFSA directly to Washington at no charge. If you have questions, the Federal Student Aid Information Center (1-800-433-3243) will answer them at no cost to you. Some companies have developed fee-for-service websites to collect FAFSA data and then submit them on behalf of applicants but, remember, the first “F” in FAFSA means “Free.”

Q-5. OK. I get it. It’s in my best interests to submit my 2017-18 FAFSA as soon as possible. But when can I expect to receive 2017-18 financial aid offer(s)?

A-5. Newly admitted students won’t get offers until admitted, but those selected for early admission will likely receive them shortly before Christmas. For other new admits, aid offers will come in February or March — after institutions receive funding and guidance for the government aid programs that help their students.

Many colleges won’t make 2017-18 financial aid offers to currently enrolled students until April or May.

College Affordability Solutions can advise you on completing your FAFSA. Call (512) 366-5354 or email

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 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 if you need help.

Get Ready! It’s Almost Time to Do Your FAFSA!

School has just begun for 2016-17 but, if you have a student who’ll be enrolled after June 30, 2017, it’s time to get ready to complete and submit your 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The 2017-18 FAFSA becomes available OCTOBER 1. That’s a big change from the past, when parents and students couldn’t access it until January 1. Nevertheless, you should submit the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1 for three reasons:

(1)  Some colleges use FAFSA submission dates to determine the order in which they award their grants and scholarships. Institutional funds are limited, so the longer you wait to submit your FAFSA, the less likely you may be to get such awards.

(2)  Many colleges will also begin auditing FAFSA data this fall, so you’ll give yourself more time to supply them with the documents they need to resolve apparent errors or discrepancies on your FAFSA.

(3)  Sometimes the data you report on your FAFSA doesn’t fully capture your family’s unique financial circumstances, especially if things outside it’s control (e.g. lost jobs or wages, costly uninsured medical bills) have undermined your family’s capacity to pay college-related expenses. You can find out what your financial aid office needs to take these “special circumstances” into account, then have lot’s of time to follow-up before 2017-18 financial aid is awarded.

More than $190 billion a year in financial aid goes to families who do the FAFSA. It collects data on each student’s family and family finances. These numbers help determine what your student may receive in federal grants, loans, and work-study. Many colleges, private scholarship providers, and states also use FAFSA information to award their financial aid.

You can get a rough estimate of the federal financial aid for which you’ll qualify by using the government’s FAFSA Forecaster. It takes less than 20 minutes to complete, it’s confidential, and it’s free.

Not sure where your student is going to college yet? Don’t worry. You can use the FAFSA to apply for financial aid from up to 10 different institutions.

Note: Look here for additional FAFSA guidance every Thursday between now and October 1 — “Who Completes the FAFSA?” on September 15, “What’s Needed to Complete the FAFSA?” on September 22, and “Last Minute FAFSA Q & As” on September 29.

College Affordability Solutions offers you 40 years of financial aid experience as a parent, professional, and student. Need some FAFSA help? Call (512) 366-5354 or email

5 Steps to FAFSA Completion

If your high school senior is starting college this fall, it’s time for the two of you to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA needs to be accurate and on time, because its the gateway to more than 80% of all financial aid awarded in the United States.

You’ve probably heard the FAFSA horror stories. Yes, the FAFSA asks a lot of questions and, yes, some of those questions can be complicated. But you needn’t fear the FAFSA. If you approach it correctly it’s not all that difficult.

Here are five things that’ll help you fill out your FAFSA correctly and punctually:

(1) File it before your FAFSA priority deadline: Remember, your FAFSA priority deadline is the earliest FAFSA priority deadline for any school your student may attend in 2016-17. It’s also your state’s priority deadline if that comes first. You can still file the FAFSA after this date but, the later you file, the greater the chance that your student will lose out on various grants, need-based scholarships, and work-study awards.

(2) Create your FSA IDs on the Federal Student Aid website: You and your student each need to create a username and password to serve as your FSA IDs. You need this to file FAFSA data on the web – which is the easiest and fastest way to do it – to correct or update FAFSA data, and to log into secure federal websites about your student’s financial aid.

(3) Have the right stuff on hand: Gather up these documents and this information so you can make sure you and your student are completing your FAFSA with the right data:




Social Security Card



Alien ID Card (if student isn’t U.S. citizen)


Driver’s License


Most recent federal tax returns and W-2 forms



Records on untaxed income (interest, child-support, etc.)



Net worth records (cash; business, farm, investment assets; real estate — but not your family home — savings and checking account balances.



(4) Log into FAFSA-on-the-Web and answer the questions: Make sure the extension for the website you log into is “” as some private companies have similar addresses but charge fees to send the government your Free Application for Federal Student Aid data. Once you log in, it should take you 30 minutes or so to complete your part of the FAFSA. And remember, you and your student each need to complete your own FAFSA sections.

(5) Double check your answers and file your FAFSA: You’d be surprised how easy it is to transpose a digit here or misspell a word there, so go back and proof all answers. Not doing so increases the chance of your FAFSA being delayed until aid for which your student is eligible has all been awarded to others.

College Affordability Solutions provides FAFSA completion assistance to current and prospective college students, their parents, and their guardians. Call (512) 366-5354 or email 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 to learn more.

Don’t Miss Your FAFSA Priority Deadline!

The 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) became available January 1, signaling the start of the financial aid application process for enrollment periods beginning July 1 or later. But by when do you need to complete and file your 2016-17 FAFSA?

The answer: by your FAFSA priority deadline, which is the earliest FAFSA priority deadline for any of the schools you’re thinking about attending in 2016-17. And regardless of school deadlines, you also need to be mindful of your state’s FAFSA priority deadline. For example, if you’re a Texas resident interested in attending Texas schools, you should submit your FASFA before the State of Texas’ March 15 FAFSA priority deadline — even if all schools of interest to you have subsequent deadlines.

Why a priority deadline? FAFSA data are the key to proving eligibility for most of the best forms of financial aid — grants, need-based scholarships, the most inexpensive loans, and work-study jobs. But institutional funding for these programs is limited, and there’s never enough to adequately fund every eligible student. Money limits are also the norm in state grant programs, hence the state priority deadlines.

Submit your FAFSA before your priority deadline and the schools you list on it will get your data in time to assemble financial aid “packages” for you while there’s still money left for all the programs for which you’re eligible. You can still submit your FAFSA after your priority deadline, but it’s likely that your access to the best aid will be very limited because all or most those dollars will have already been awarded to other students.

So here’s what you need to do:

  1. Check the financial aid websites for the institutions to which you have or will apply for admission. Identify that school’s FAFSA priority deadline. Call its financial aid office if you can’t find this information!
  2. Use the first of your schools’ FAFSA priority deadlines, or your state’s FAFSA priority deadline, whichever is earliest, as your FAFSA priority deadline.
  3. If you haven’t already done so, go get your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID so you can complete your FAFSA. Parents, this applies to you, too!
  4. Before your FAFSA priority deadline, complete and file your FAFSA following the instructions on Be sure to list the Federal School Code for every college and university you’re thinking about attending before filing your FAFSA.

College Affordability Solutions offers various services including FAFSA completion assistance. Call (512) 366-5354 or email to learn more.