Making the Most of Your Financial Aid Eligibility

Making the most of financial aid eligibilityAs many of you are working on your FAFSA right now, and trying to make sure you maximize your aid eligibility, I wanted to share a few tips that may help you along the way. Keeping in mind that you should always be truthful on your aid applications, none of these tips is going to help you game the system or give you places to hide our money. However, each of them can help you make timely decisions that could significantly affect your aid eligibility.

1. Pay off consumer debt, such as credit card and auto loan balances prior to filing – FAFSA asks you about cash assets available to you on the day you file.

2. Likewise, accelerate necessary expenses, to reduce available cash. For example, if you need a new car or refrigerator, buy it before you file the FAFSA.

3. Prepay your mortgage. FAFSA does not ask about home equity.

4. Spend down the student’s assets and income first – assessed at a higher rate (20% versus 5.64%). By spending them down during the first year, they are not available in year two for another 20% assessment.

5. If you feel that your family’s financial circumstances are unusual, make an appointment with the financial aid administrator at your school to review your case. Sometimes the school will be able to adjust your financial aid packag4 using a process known as Professional Judgment.

6. Maximize contributions to your retirement fund. FAFSA does not ask about retirement monies.

7. Do not withdraw money from your retirement fund to pay for school, as distributions count as taxable income, reducing next year’s financial aid eligibility. If you must use money from your retirement funds, borrow the money from the retirement fund instead of taking a distribution.

8. If grandparents want to give money to the student to help them pay for their education, ask them to wait until the student’s last year of college. Any money gifted to the student has to be reported on the FAFSA and reduces next year’s financial aid eligibility. By waiting until the student’s last year, there is no penalty to worry about the following year.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

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Scholarship Searching Made Easier

Dobler College ConsultingWith the frenzy of college application deadlines finally winding down families are starting to apply for financial aid. And while some of you will qualify for need-based aid, some of you will not. Or, you will qualify but the award may not be enough to get you where you need to be.

Having said that, if there is a gap between what the college is offering you and what you can afford to pay, spending some time applying for private scholarships can help ease that burden. Scholarships can be found just about anywhere and sometimes getting started can be rather difficult.

Today, I’d like to share a few tips to help make that a bit easier:

1. If you know what you want to major in, you should start looking for scholarships through professional organizations and associations affiliated with that field. For example, here’s a list of scholarships offered through the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE) for students interested in majoring in engineering.

2. To narrow down internet search results, trying searching more specifically such as “biology scholarships 2018 2019”.

3. Make good use of social media. The ScholarshipExperts.com Pinterest board has over 1,400 scholarships!

4. Beware of scams. It should never cost you more than a postage stamp to apply for a scholarship. Also NEVER give out your social security number or bank information.

5. Start your search locally and be prepared to do the work that other students won’t. Check out scholarship opportunities through your parents’ employers, local organizations, your bank or credit union, the town library, your church and, most importantly, your school counseling office.

6. Searching for scholarships is like a part-time job. It’s not a one and done deal. The more you search and the more you apply, the more likely you are to win something.

7. When you are using a scholarship search engine like the ones on FinAid or FastWeb you must fill out the profiles completely if you want to have the best chances of finding and winning scholarships. Incomplete profiles are not going to help you.

8. If you have to write an essay, apply the same rules for college application essays: Grab the reader’s attention in the first two sentences and tell a story. If your essay bores you, it will most definitely bore the scholarship selection committee person who has to read it.

9. Keep in mind the essays you’ve already written for college applications. Recycle and re-purpose where you can to save time, but pay close attention to what each essay prompt is asking you – a recycled essay that doesn’t answer the prompt will not help you win a scholarship.

10. Look for “livelines” versus deadlines. Find out what the earliest date is you can apply and apply on that date. Be the one to lead the pack of applications!

At the end of the day, scholarship searching is a process and a time-consuming one at that. Pace yourself and stay positive. Also keep in mind that private scholarships can often affect your financial aid award. Colleges treat scholarships differently, but some will reduce your merit scholarships dollar for dollar for each private scholarship that you earn.

If you’re unsure of how colleges will treat private scholarships, give them a call and ask. It’s better to know up front before you invest a lot of time in your scholarship search.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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Applying For Financial Aid

Appying For Financial Aid2If your son or daughter is going to college, then you already know that you should apply for financial aid if you want to be considered for need-based aid, grants and loans. What you may not know is that there are two different financial aid applications.

First, let’s talk about the application everyone needs to fill out.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the application that is required by every college in order to consider and then award financial aid to your son or daughter. The FAFSA is free and while it will take some time to fill out, if you organize yourself ahead of time it will be much easier.

The FAFSA is a smart form which you will find very helpful. Based on the information you enter, the FAFSA customizes the questions so that you only need to answer questions that pertain to your individual situation.

While everyone needs to fill out the FAFSA, based on colleges you are applying to, some of you may need to also fill out the CSS Profile.

The Profile is only required by a couple hundred private schools in addition to some scholarship programs. Unlike the FAFSA, the Profile is not free. It will cost you $16 to register and then an additional $9 per school for each school to which you send the form. The Profile also takes longer to complete and digs deeper into your financial picture.

To help yourself out with both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, some of the information you will want to gather before you get started include:

  • Student and parents’ social security numbers
  • Student and parents’ driver’s license numbers
  • Statements for checking and savings accounts
  • Copies of last year’s tax return and W-2’s
  • Statements for any 529 accounts
  • Statements for any investment accounts
  • Current mortgage statement (Profile only)

Keep in mind that while current seniors are just filling out the FAFSA now (it went live on January 1st while the CSS Profile became available on October 1st) next year’s seniors will be able to fill out both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile starting in October.

This is a welcome change to the FAFSA as it will allow you to file financial aid applications using real numbers rather than estimates. Currently, you apply for financial aid using estimations for income and assets based on prior year information. With this new timeline, you will now use prior-prior year information – there will be no more guessing.

For those of you are very much depending on financial aid to help make a decision on where your son or daughter will be able to go to college, having this information in the fall of their senior year rather than waiting until the late spring, when they only have so many weeks left before the May 1st deadline is going to be very helpful.

There’s a lot to like about that.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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What is Financial Aid?

What is Financial AidFinancial aid is money that students and their parents can receive to help pay for college costs.

Aid is categorized in four ways:

Need-Based: For students and families who demonstrate a high level of need based on information provided on the FAFSA. Need-based aid can be awarded in the form of grants (federal and state), work study, low-interest loans (and often interest-deferred while enrolled) and the Parent Plus Loan.

Non-Need-Based: For students and families who qualify for private scholarships and grants outside of the FAFSA.

Merit-Based: For students who have excelled academically both with their GPA and standardized test scores.

Self-Help: Another way to categorize loans which students and families may choose to take out.

In my opinion, all students, regardless of their family’s financial situation should apply for financial aid. Why? Because it’s the only way to qualify for a federal loan. So even in a situation where a family has a high EFC (expected family contribution) and won’t qualify for any need-based aid, they can qualify for a student loan. Taking out a federally-backed loan like this with a low interest rate is a great way for a student to not only have some skin in the game but it will also help them establish some credit.

Additionally, a vast majority of students receive some form of financial aid. At private schools, where the cost of attendance can easily exceed $60,000, most students receive something as a higher cost makes it easier to demonstrate financial need.

Because this process gets complicated, it’s important to do your homework and stay on top of dates. Proper research into what a college may award, completing an EFC calculator to gain a thorough understanding of your ability to pay and running the numbers to know what potential student loan payments may look like will go a long way to helping you be more confident in the decisions you will be faced with.

If you would like some assistance with your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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The CSS/PROFILE: The “Other” Financial Aid Application

The CSS Profile The Other Financial Aid ApplicationThe CSS/PROFILE went live on October 1st officially kicking off the start to the financial aid season. Ironically enough, many families don’t even know the CSS/PROFILE exists.

It does and here’s what you need to know about it:

1. While every college requires a student to file a FAFSA to qualify to federal need-based aid, over 200 mostly private colleges require students to complete the CSS/PROFILE as well for consideration of scholarships.

2. Here in Connecticut that list includes: Connecticut College, Fairfield University, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, Trinity College, University of New Haven, Wesleyan University, and Yale University.

3. While the FAFSA is a free application, the CSS/Profile is not. The initial application is $25 and then each subsequent submission costs $16.

4. Unlike the FAFSA, a family’s home equity is taken into account as an available asset.

5. If a family owns a business, 100% of its equity will be assessed.

6. Assets held in the names of siblings will be considered parental assets and assessed as such increasing the parents’ EFC.

7. Only untaxed social security benefits for the student will be excluded whereas benefits for the parent will not be excluded.

8. Pre-tax contributions to flex-plans for healthcare and dependent care are assessed as untaxed income.

9. Schools have their own deadlines for when the CSS/PROFILE should be filed and these dates can range from as early as sometime in November for Early Decision or Early Action applicants to as late as February for students applying Regular Decision. When in doubt, families should always check the school’s website or call the financial aid office to verify deadlines.

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into the CSS/PROFILE. It’s costly, it’s invasive and it’s just another hurdle standing in the way for many students and their parents.

If you would like some assistance filing the CSS/PROFILE as well as the FAFSA, contact me today. Like an accountant would with your taxes, I can help you gather the documents you need, assist you in the filing of both applications and then also help you with appeals should the need arise.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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