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College Corner: Common questions about the FAFSA

CollegeCorner1
[/media-credit] Many juniors and senior parents and students have concerns about the FAFSA. Michelle Warkentin helps answer some of those in this month’s College Corner.
Congratulations seniors you are in the final stretch of your high school career! Most of you can breath a sigh of relief because your college applications have been submitted, now it is just the waiting game to find out which colleges you have been accepted to. It’s around this time of year that the parents start sweating because it is time to submit the ominous Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Simply saying the acronym FAFSA sounds like an ugly thing, however most students and parents will agree that it is much less painful than they anticipated. The materials needed in order to get started are similar to those used when filing a tax return.

However, the great thing is that you don’t need to have already filed your 2012 taxes. An estimate of your 2012 tax information will suffice until you complete your taxes at which time you will be able to use the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool to transfer your tax data directly from the IRS website into your FAFSA.

Yet many of you have common questions about the FAFSA I hope to answer.

One of the most common questions I receive regarding the FAFSA is, “Do my parents have to file a FAFSA even if they know we won’t receive any financial aid?” First off, there is no way you can know that you will not receive financial aid unless you apply. Secondly, several other factors are taken into consideration aside from financial need (ex. number of siblings in college, size of family, etc.). Lastly, students are often ineligible for school-based scholarships, loans, etc. if they have not completed the FAFSA.

According to Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid.org, “So even if your family income is well into six figures, you should file the FAFSA and apply for need-based financial aid. Families have a tendency to underestimate eligibility for need-based aid and overestimate eligibility for merit-based aid.”

To make the process a little less intimidating, it is important to understand other acronyms specific to the FAFSA such as E.F.C. (Expected Family Contribution), S.A.R. (Student Aid Report) and I.B.R. (Income-Based Repayment).

Another common question is “My parents are divorced and they have 50-50 custody, which one of them is responsible for filing the FAFSA?” In the majority of cases, 50-50 custodies are not completely equal, one parent usually has the child more often than the other. However if it is truly 50-50 then the parent who provided the majority of financial support for the child during 2012 is responsible for completing the FAFSA.

“If the parents provided the same amount of support, then the college financial aid administrator gets to choose, and they almost always will chose the set of parents with the greater income,” Kantrowitz said.

However, The Feather wants to let readers know that their are sites that will help them file the FASFA, including FAFAOnline.com and Student Financial Aid Services Inc.. Both of these web sites charge for their services but can file the FAFSA for students/parents.

For more information on FAFSA, read the Dec. 14, 2010 article, College Corner: Filing the FAFSA.

For more College Corners, read the Dec. 10 article, College Corner: Tips on scoring cash for college.

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