Read almost any college or financial aid related blog during the winter and you’ll see at least one post warning against making a mistake on the FAFSA. Including me; I’ve written about it a couple of times:
- 11 Mistakes I don’t want to make on the FAFSA
- Catch-22: How and when to complete the FAFSA and your tax returns
Why the big deal about not messing this up?
1. The amount of money at risk is substantial. The FAFSA computes your Expected Family Contribution [EFC], which the colleges use to compute any financial aid, from grants to work-study, to determining how much of a loan could be subsidized vs. unsubsidized. Accidentally include a $450,000 family home in your assets? The parents’ total unprotected assets x 5.64% are included in your ability to pay. There’s a potential $25k mistake.
2. It’s difficult (impossible?) to know if you’ve made a mistake. My friend, Kim, called a couple of weeks ago as she worked her way through the form and made this point: how would you know? The math and algorithms involved are complicated, we’ve been led to expect a higher EFC than we’d like to pay, and how could you check it if you did think it was wrong?
“The questions are deceptively simple,” Wagar says. Yet its instructions and behind-the-scenes calculations are as dense as its acronym. Mistakes can costs you hundreds, even thousands of dollars in aid each year. Once the form’s submitted, Wagar added, there’s no easy way to know you made a mistake on it.“Even lawyers, Ph.D.s, they screw it up,” said Paula Bishop, a certified public accountant in Bellevue, Wash., who specializes in college planning. “It’s a shame, because some don’t go to college because of it.”
The advice he quoted from financial aid consultants: Pay attention.
The advice I received from Mod Squad Dad when I thought it was done and wanted to (nay, ached to) submit it late one night: sleep on it and check it again in the morning.
Good luck on the FAFSA. I’m off to plug real 2011 numbers into my filed-early-with-estimates CollegeBoard Profile.
- Reader questions: Help filling out the FAFSA college financial aid form (oregonlive.com)
- Completing the FAFSA form just got a lot easier (cbsnews.com)
- YOUR FAFSA FACTS NEED-TO-KNOW for 2012/13 COLLEGE YEAR (thecareercloset.com)