Jill Haley: Time to file for college financial aid | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: Time to file for college financial aid

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

In case you haven’t heard, big changes were made to financial aid this year. For students attending college in the fall of 2017, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid became available to file on Oct. 1. This is three months earlier than the previous opening.

The FAFSA is used to determine aid at colleges using a federal formula based on income and assets. This information is sent to each college listed on the student’s FAFSA.

What is important to remember is that FAFSA will now be using 2015 income to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid when they attend college in 2017. In previous years, FAFSA asked for financial aid information the year before a student entered college.

While families will use 2015 tax income to document earnings, they will report current assets. These assets could include savings and checking accounts, rental properties and stocks and bonds. Retirement accounts, and the family residence are not considered assets in the FAFSA formula.

The prediction is that financial aid awards will now be more accurate because they are based on already filed tax information. A tool built into the FAFSA provides a direct link to the tax return.

Applying early also means that families may know their eligibility to receive aid before their child even applies to college! This information, called the estimated family contribution, will be made available approximately three weeks after a family files the FAFSA.

Knowing their EFC could influence many students’ decision on where to apply. This is huge, because previously students applied to college and then discovered their eligibility for financial aid.

Having earlier information may reduce the number of colleges a student applies to as they create a more targeted list based on their ability to afford it.

Families with low EFCs should look at colleges that meet all, or almost all, of their financial need.

Families with high EFCs might want to look at public colleges or universities or colleges that provide merit aid if they do not want to pay for the total cost of attendance at private colleges.

While not all families file the FAFSA, it might be to their benefit to do so. The FAFSA is not only required for many free scholarships and grants, it is also needed to qualify for low interest loans such as the Direct Student Loan.

If you are a family whose current income is now drastically lower than it was in 2015, contact the financial aid office at the college where your student will attend. The staff has the ability to use their professional judgment in adjusting financial aid based on an individual family’s situation.

Nevada Union High School will hold a “Cash for College” workshop on how to file the FAFSA at 9 a.m. Saturday in the NUHS Cafeteria. For more information, check Nevada Union High School’s website.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor, who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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