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Top 10 FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Are you ready to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?  Because the government and colleges give aid on a first come, first serve basis, it’s important to submit as early as possible.

FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Unfortunately, a single (seemingly harmless) mistake on your FAFSA can delay processing for weeks, moving your application behind the countless others that were submitted correctly. The good news: Youu can take steps to prevent those mistakes from happening!

Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid when completing the FAFSA:

  1. Leaving a field blank.  Many people see a question that doesn’t apply to them and mistakenly leave it blank. Instead, write in a “0” or “not applicable” so the processor doesn’t assume you forgot to answer and reject the application.
  1. Entering the wrong tax amount.  Do not use the information from your W-2. Instead, refer to you 1040 federal tax return to report income and taxes paid. Remember you should fill out the FAFSA before you file taxes using an estimate, but you need to get in there and update it with the correct numbers once your taxes are complete.
  1. Reporting incorrect marital status.  Although you may be engaged, if you aren’t legally married on the day you file, list your marital status as single.
  1. Reporting incorrect parent information.  The parent you lived with for most of the year is the one to fill out the FAFSA, so make sure you include information for the right parent. If your primary guardian remarried, you’ll need to include requested information about your stepparent as well.
  1. Forgetting to sign the application.  It might sound simple, but a lot of people forget this important step. If you’re filing as a dependent, both you and your parents need to sign the application. If you’re filing online, you can sign electronically using PIN numbers (you can get them from http://www.pin.ed.gov).
  1. Filing late.  Procrastinating leads to missed opportunities for aid. Remember to stay on top of deadlines, and because it’s first-come, first-serve, get your FAFSA in as soon as possible.
  1. Providing too much information.  You don’t need to include information about retirement accounts and home equity. If you include this information on your application, your chances for aid will shrink, so leave them off. NOTE: The FAFSA does ask about second homes and real estate investments, so you’ll need to provide details about those if applicable.
  1. Listing just one school.  List every school to which you’ve applied or are planning to apply so you don’t miss deadlines at any of the colleges you’re considering.
  1. Not filing at all.  There is no reason not to file the FAFSA. Even if you think you make too much money, you might be surprised, and it doesn’t hurt at all. Simply by completing the application you will be eligible for Stafford government student loans. Some non-citizens qualify for federal and college financial aid, too, so don’t use your citizenship status as a reason not to file.
  1. Not following directions or getting help.  As with any form, read the directions carefully. If you aren’t sure about a question, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA Web site or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED AID (1-800-433-3243). You also can take advantage of the government’s online chat sessions by using FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help from Monday through Saturday. Of course, I’m happy to answer any questions you have as well. Feel free to contact me via phone or email!

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: Terrance Heath


The Gravity of the CSS Profile: Why You Should Apply

astronautsGet ready to complete the CSS Profile!

While not as commonly used as the FAFSA, for those colleges that do use it, completing the CSS Profile boosts your qualification for more financial aid, and who doesn’t want some extra money toward their college fund?

You may not realize it, but the CSS Profile is required by over 300 colleges.  It is very likely that one or more colleges in your personal top 10 list will need of the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA in order to be considered for all available financial aid.

Be prepared: Colleges that request the CSS Profile include those from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the well-known (Santa Clara University), lesser known (Whitmore College), large (Boston University), to small (Pomona) private colleges; even a few public colleges (University of Michigan) opt for the CSS Profile.

How is the CSS Profile Different than the FAFSA?

1)    Unlike the FAFSA which is spearheaded by the federal government, the CSS Profileis administered by the College Board.

2)    While the FAFSA is FREE, the CSS Profile requires a cost for submission ($25 for the first college and $16 for each additional college).

3)    The CSS Profile is now available online for fall 2015 admission.  Some colleges have deadlines as early as November 1, 2014 for Early Action and Early Decision applications.  The FAFSA only becomes available on January 1, 2015.

4)    Every college requires your submission of the FAFSA for consideration of anygovernment financial aid.  Colleges that ask for the CSS Profile require it to determine your eligibility for various non-government avenues of financial aid.

5)    Are you part of a two household family?  The FAFSA only asks for financial and household information for the custodial parent household.  The CSS Profile also inquires about financial and household information for the custodial parent household. In addition, many colleges request that the Noncustodial Profile be separately completed by the noncustodial parent.  For those colleges, an Expected Family Contribution will be calculated for both households.

6)    Colleges that call for the CSS Profile also will likely request copies of tax returns, W2s, plus supplemental forms for every business and farm.  Make sure you know the requirements for every college.  It’s important!.

Is it worth the time and effort to complete the CSS Profile and send in all your financial information?

YES!  Many students who do not qualify for government need based aid do qualify for college-specific financial aid.  You may be one of them!  These institutional funds lie dormant awaiting claim for many students who have income and assets that are too high to qualify for government funds.

Remember, you have to apply to even be considered.  To illustrate, here is a statement on Santa Clara University’s website: “To be considered for the full range of SCU-awarded scholarships and grants, applicants are required to complete a secondary application, the College Scholarship Service/Financial Aid PROFILE.”

Check the financial aid web page for EVERY college on your list.  Discover which explicitly require the CSS Profile and Non-Custodial CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA.  Confirm the related deadlines and submit the application before the cut-off date.

Applying for both the FAFSA and CSS Profile (where requested) guarantees your maximum potential amount of gift aid for college funding from sources other than a student loans!

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at 650-587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Johnson Cameraface


Financial Aid Calculators: One You’ve Heard About, Two You May Not Have

calculator3Seniors: As you search for necessary information required for the FAFSA, you most likely have ran into the idea of financial aid calculators, but what are they and how do they work?

Generally speaking, there are three calculators that colleges use: the FAFSA, Profile and Consensus, all of which abide by a set of rules:

    • Your family’s income and asset amounts are added into a calculator every year.
    • A chunk of your parent’s income (a minimal amount based on the size of the household) and a portion of their asset (typically $20,000 to $50,000 based on the age of the oldest parent) are set aside.
    • Once the entire calculation is complete, you end up with your “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC), defined as the estimated amount your family is expected to put toward your college expenses.
    • In the case that the EFC falls under the cost of college, the difference is your financial aid eligibility.
    • Keep in mind, Room + Board + Tuition + Fees = Cost for the child attending college.  Your EFC will be lower (not quite half) for each child if you have two children attending college at the same time.

So What About These Three Calculators?

As you’re probably aware, the vast majority of colleges utilize the FAFSA’s financial aid calculator.  Another formidable calculator is spearheaded by the College Scholarship Services Profile, which configures income and assets differently, aptly named “the Profile”.  While it is less common, about 300 colleges maintain it as their calculator of choice.

Finally, the third arose from a Section 568 Presidents’ Group, but only 24 elite colleges use this calculator.  It’s known as Consensus.  Considering calculator preferences vary between institutions, you will want to know which is adopted by every college on your list.

Major Differences

FAFSA      Profile Consensus
Overall Far more laid-back when compiling assets.  Stricter.  Stricter.
General Assets Excludes primary home value, along with your farm and small business. Counts businesses, farms, equity of the home, annuities and 529s. Includes the same as the Profile, but only considers home equity up to 120% of parental income.
Exemption Exempts a family from asset consideration if parents file a short-form tax return, totaling less than $50,000 of gross income (You should consult your parents about this one).  No exemptions.  No exemptions.
Separated Households Grants leniency toward divorced parents where the low-income parent holds primary custody. Grants no leniency toward divorced parents (Both incomes are judged). Grants no leniency toward divorced parents (Both incomes are judged).
Parent Assets Assessed at 5.6% (i.e. for every $100,000 in assets, your EFC is increased by $5,600). Assessed at 5% Assessed at 5%
Student Assets Assessed at 20% Assessed at 25% Assessed at 5%

 

Which One Should I Use?

That all depends upon your desired colleges.  While it’s safe to say that you’ll be crunching you and your parent’s numbers in the FAFSA, you may also need to employ the Profile or Consensus.  Make sure you know which formula (and financial aid applications) every college on your list uses.

If anything else, estimate your EFC with all three calculators (the FAFSA’s estimator is called the FAFSA4caster).  You may be surprised to find out that you may qualify for more financial aid at a college which uses one formula over another.

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at 650-587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Lincoln Blues


Merit Aid: Some Assembly (May Be) Required

Man looking at assembly instructions.Seniors: if you believe all colleges only require their application for consideration of merit aid, think again.

If you’re unfamiliar with merit aid, it essentially grants students with funding stemming from academic or other achievements, such as an impressive GPA or recognized honors, not based upon financial need.

It’s true that most colleges only request you fill out their school-based form along with the FAFSA, but about 300 of them signify you must also submit your CSS Profile.  To search for your top college picks and whether or not they need your CSS Profile, consult this College Board list.

Merit Aid Isn’t Always Automatic?

NYU is one of the few institutions that requires both the CSS Profile and FAFSA for all financial aid considerations, including merit aid.  A few of their scholarships may blend need-based and merit aid requirements, therefore the forms are necessary.

Special applications separate from the admissions form may also be desired, but typically only one or two, such as the Barnes Scholarship at Colorado College or Johnston Scholars at the University of North Carolina.

On the other hand, a total of 14 scholarships through the University of Michigan require individual applications.  They, like NYU, also prompt students to complete the CSS Profile regardless of merit or need-based aid.

Look Out for the Details

Unfortunately, you’re left to read the fine print.  Students and parents must scrounge through each school’s financial aid program to figure out special stipulations.

While not many fit into this category, it pays to check just in case the college of your choice does need the FAFSA or CSS Profile for merit aid.

If your student’s SAT scores are through the roof or they consistently receive top marks, definitely consider the possibility of merit aid to lessen the burden of college-related debt.  Just be aware of possible extra applications so they don’t miss out on the opportunity.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar.

Photo Credit: Sharyn Morrow


Gearing up for the FAFSA, Middle Class Scholarship & More

It’s December!  We reach the end of 2013 and what better time to get a head start on the FAFSA?

Because the application period for the FAFSA opens on January 1st 2014, the time sandwiched between the two holidays presents a fantastic opportunity to collect related documents.  This includes tax forms and bank statements, among others fully listed in this month’s FAFSA-themed Senior Scoop.

Waiting until the 11th hour poses the threat of obtaining very little student aid.  They cater to students in order of submission so it’s vital to apply as early as possible.

Middle class families may shy away from applying for the FAFSA because they believe they won’t qualify for any aid.  For these families, this month’s featured find is for you.  We indulge you on the requirements and details of the Middle Class Scholarship.  For the 2014-15 academic year, it has the potential to award aid to students of families with up to $150,000 of income.

Reserve a seat at a webinar or give me a call when you are ready to take your next step on the path to creating a clear college funding plan.  To avoid rushing or being shut out of opportunities, both financial and academic, having a plan is key!

If you have any questions, please feel free to join me on Tuesday, Dec. 17th at 12pm via Google Hangout, where I’ll be discussing tips on preparing for your FAFSA submission.  It’ll be a live video feed and allows you to ask questions throughout the broadcast.  Happy Holidays!

All the best,
Beatrice Schultz, CFP®
Westface College Planning
College Funding Specialist
650-587-1559

College Smart Radio CrestCollege Smart Radio:  Tackling the Runaway Costs of College
Tune in to 1220am KDOW – the Wall Street Business Network from 3:00pm-3:30pm every Saturday for my radio show, College Smart Radio – Tackling the Runaway Costs of College.  The show can be streamed live at www.KDOW.biz, too!

Curious what College Smart Radio covers?  Tune in Saturday, December 3rd when my guest Christine VanDeVelde, co-author of  “College Admission: From Application to Acceptance”, reveals insight on the seemingly impenetrable fortress of being accepted.  It’s not as impossible as many perceive.Listen in to the College Smart Radio podcast of a show last week when I spoke with guest Dr. Neal King.  He laid out the differences between non-profit and profit colleges, emphasizing which choice works in favor of your goals and financial benefit.

It’s all great information you won’t want to miss out on. Thanks for listening!

Girl laying head on booksFeatured Find: Middle Class Undergrads, Rejoice!
Thousands of middle class students suffer with a tremendous lack of financial aid simply because their household income lies above normal need-based aid.  For those of you in this category, prepare for some amazing news!  Governor Jerry Brown signed a California bill enacting the “Middle Class Scholarship” (MCS) program.It will help support undergraduate students with up to $150,000 in family income beginning the semester of 2014-15.  Otherwise, loans have been nearly inevitable, but the MCS will lend students within the middle class bracket more leeway.

Continue reading article here.

Upcoming “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” Webinars
Seating may be limited – Register to ensure your spot!

Most parents are not financially prepared to enter the most expensive time period of their lives, covering their child’s college education. Our 1-hour workshops provide steps you can take right now to assure you understand the cost of attendance and how you can afford college without jeopardizing your retirement.

Our next upcoming workshop is:

It’s reported that up to 70% of FAFSA submissions contain errors or remain incomplete.  This leads to delays and possibly refusal of obtaining student aid.  Don’t let yourself fall into this category!

FAFSA Teal LogoSenior Scoop: The 5 W’s to Buckling Down & Gearing Up for a Successful FAFSA
As we approach December, dressing Christmas trees with festive ornaments and enclosing presents in colorfully decorated wrapping paper, some muse about the upcoming year’s resolutions.

One in particular should rank high on your list, particularly for those orchestrating a smooth transition from high school to college: preparing for the FAFSA.

FAFSA?

While the majority of parents are overly aware of the FAFSA and its benefits, some are entirely new to the world of preparing for college. So, what is the FAFSA?

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) allows parents and students to submit a yearly application that leads to accessing and utilizing student aid money-grants, loans, and work-study, to name a few.

Continue reading Senior Scoop here.

Advice & Insight
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About Westface College Planning

If you are a typical parent with college bound students, you’re probably overwhelmed by all the research necessary to help your sons and daughters make the right choices and prevent overpaying for their education.

You are not alone!


Get the facts. Educate yourself to potentially save tens of thousands of dollars on a single college education. Parents of more than one child heading to college in the next few years, can save even more.

At Westface College Planning we work with families to help you plan for and navigate the “paying for college” process. We teach you how to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses, maximize financial aid eligibility, understand the best way to navigate through the college selection process and prioritize your sources of college funds to protect your life savings!

Sign up for a free workshop or webinar or call to schedule a complimentary college funding consultation today.

More information at westfacecollegeplanning.com.