It’s October, which means it’s FAFSA Time. If you have a student attending college in 2020, you need to FAFSA ASAP! If you have a child in high school, it’s time to start preparing for FAFSA Time!
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a form that current and/or prospective college students need to submit to determine their financial aid eligibility. Every student should fill out the FAFSA, regardless of income status, scholarship status, or school choice.
Only about 50% of high school students complete the FAFSA, most likely due to a lack of understanding of how financial aid works – or they’re lazy, they procrastinate, or they’re simply outright scared of the process… The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for both financial aid (income based) and merit aid (based not on income but on unique abilities or circumstances) for college. If you fail to file the FAFSA, you you will be ineligible for financial aid, merit aid, and low-cost government subsidized loans.
When Do I FAFSA?
The FAFSA opened for registration on October 1 of this year. The state deadline in Tennessee is February 1, 2020 – but don’t wait that long! The sooner you fill out the FAFSA, the more aid you may be eligible for. You can see your state deadline here. Many states have non-federal funds they tap for aid that will run dry if you wait too long to apply. Unlike student loans, you do not need to repay grants like the Pell Grant. Do not leave free money on the table! If you have a student attending college in 2020, you need to FAFSA ASAP!
What Does FAFSA Look Like?
For me the FAFSA looks really great! My son attends a state technical college in Tennessee. Financial aid by way of the FAFSA means we paid less than $700 for tuition this semester. Cheap rent, a modest budget, and a good part-time job means he will graduate without student loan debt + cash in the bank. Well worth the hour it took to fill out the FAFSA!
Visit the FAFSA website, dedicate some quiet to familiarize yourself with the process, and carefully fill out the application. Be sure to fill it out completely and read the requirements for reporting your assets accurately. For instance, home equity and retirement accounts do not count as assets on the FAFSA. There is a student section and then a parent section. Be careful not to confuse the two. You will be able to electronically link your tax returns from the IRS for income verification.
Over $2 billion per year in federal aid is forfeited simply because families fail to fill out the FAFSA. In a time when the student loan industry is running a $1.5 trillion balance sheet, the math on this is downright criminal. In 2017-18, undergraduate students received an average of $14,790 per full-time student in financial aid and $8,970 in grants. Why would you turn your back on this money?
Millions in scholarship money goes unclaimed each year as well. Use scholarship search tools like this or this. With the amount of scholarship money available, you can make your scholarship hunt a part-time job and earn a decent hourly rate.
The Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship that ensures your first 2 years of college are free when you attend a Tennessee community college. It will cover all tuition and fees not covered by the Pell Grant, the HOPE scholarship, or TSAA funds. Yes, you will need to file a FAFSA for this. This is a great way to start your college education and ensure you graduate without debt. Eligible institution are listed here. When my son finished his 2 years of TN Promise, it was not only free, but the school sent me money!
The HOPE Scholarship is established and funded from the net proceeds of the state lottery, which makes collecting the money extra fun! Every time I see some schmo playing scratch-off lottery tickets in the Mapco parking lot I tip my hate in gratitude. The HOPE will provide up to $2,000 per semester for full time enrollment ($4,000 per year!). You’ll need a 21 ACT and a 3.0 GPA to qualify. Oh, and the FAFSA.
There are a lot of tips & tricks out there for “Hacking the FAFSA”. The lower you can get your taxable income and the less money you have in taxable accounts, the closer you can get to a “$0” EFC (Expected Family Contribution). If you are financially independent and/or financially savvy you can structure your financial picture accordingly. I’m no CPA or tax advisor, so react accordingly. Read here, and here for some decent starting points. Some planning ahead may/will be required.
I’ve been listening to an incredible podcast regarding the student load crisis produced by Dave Ramsey’s team. Absolutely a must-listen for anyone going to college or in college. He is also hosting an event for high school students in November that will be great as well. He is one of the few folks I see not just talking about the student loan crisis, but actually doing something about it.
Even as some top-ranking politicians call for forgiving student loans, there is nothing being done to slow down or stop the government subsidized loans from going out in the first place. We need more high profile folks calling out this madness.
From my view, the entire process of college is overwhelming to many. I’ve heard of folks paying for “coaches” to help them with the FAFSA, scholarship searches, college applications, the enrollment process, etc. Buckle up folks, it’s not that hard. It’s not a popularity contest either.
I also see folks using their kids’ college career as some kind of validation of their own lives in various and twisted ways. FOMO could be in play as well. This drives up costs and causes stress, angst, and poor decisions from what I see.
The FAFSA could occupy volumes of blog space, but I hope this serves as a primer, a reminder, or a jumping off point for some as they consider college + grants + financial aid… Keep calm folks, and FAFSA on!