Jill Haley: Should we file the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines a family’s financial aid eligibility for college. This application is now open for families to file if they have a child attending college in the 2020-21 school year.
I am frequently asked by parents, “Should we file the FAFSA even if we think we won’t get aid?” They believe their income and/or assets are too high to get money for their child to attend college. My answer is usually, “Yes.” Let me tell you a few reasons why.
Most families don’t realize what their eligibility for financial aid really is. You might be surprised to know that many middle/high income students receive financial aid. For families in California, students who attend a University of California (UC) campus can get a reduction in tuition even if their parents earn over $100,000 dollars a year. And if families make over $100,000 dollars a year, if a student attends a private, more costly college, they may qualify for aid to help with costs.
The greatest predictor of whether a student will receive financial aid to attend college is a family’s EFC. EFC stands for Estimated Family Contribution, and is calculated by filing the FAFSA. It is the dollar figure that the federal government decides that families should pay for a child to attend college for one year. A family’s EFC does not change for different colleges. For example, if a family’s EFC is $40,000 they would not be eligible for aid at a California State University, but might at a private college costing over $65,000 a year.
If a family has more than one child in college at a time, they could be eligible for financial aid even if they weren’t for the first child. The EFC is a family contribution and is split between the two students.
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Another reason to file the FAFSA is if a family will need to take out loans to pay for college. To be eligible for federal loans, a family must file the FAFSA. Even if a family does not qualify for subsidized loans, there are loans for both the student and the parent without regard to financial need. These also require that the family file the FAFSA.
As much as we think catastrophic events won’t happen to us, sometimes they do. If a family loses their business, has expensive medical bills or other tragedies, they may need financial help to pay for college. Financial aid offices on college campuses can make adjustments to financial aid in these cases, but they will want to see that a family has filed the FAFSA.
The good news is that the FAFSA is now easier than it has been in previous years to fill out. There is even a tool, called the tax retrieval tool, that allows you to pair your actual tax documents with the FAFSA. Parents should use it to avoid being audited by the colleges.
So, yes, go ahead and file the FAFSA. It’s not that hard, really!
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