May 3, 2010

Six Ways to Stay Ahead in the Financial Aid Game

The clock may be ticking down, but there are still ways to stay ahead in the financial aid game. With a few properly-executed plays, you can definitely have an impact on what financial aid is offered and how close it comes to meeting your needs.

1. Complete the FAFSA. Even if you missed state and/or university deadlines, you should still complete a FAFSA as soon as possible. Yes, most schools have already allocated their funds, but if there is anything left over, they may try to accommodate late filers. And even if a school has distributed all its own aid, applicants remain eligible for federal Stafford student loans, PLUS loans for parents, and Pell grants. Although it’s true you may file the FAFSA any time before June 30, 2011, for the 2010-11 academic year, don’t waste any more time. Do it NOW.

2. Submit Corrections. If you completed your FAFSA based on estimates, you should update immediately using tax information from 2009. Ideally, you should do this online using FAFSA Corrections on the Web. Note that some colleges distribute financial aid packages based on estimates, but they expect corrections to be made as soon as final information is available. Be aware that they may amend your package if revised numbers vary significantly from the estimates you provided—but this can certainly work to your advantage if your income estimates were high.

3. Answer your mail. Watch for correspondence related to your FAFSA or other school-based financial aid requests. And keep in mind that colleges are required by the federal government to randomly select some applications for “verification.” If you are asked to provide additional information or to clarify any of your answers on application forms, respond immediately.

4. Keep financial aid offices informed. Be sure to make financial aid offices aware of any significant change in family circumstances, such as an unexpected layoff, a salary cut, a divorce, or the death of a parent or guardian. Most colleges are very understanding and will make every effort to respond promptly and with great compassion. It’s better to be upfront about situations over which you have no control than to let a problem fester until neither you nor the college can solve it.

5. Educate yourself about student loans. On March 30, President Obama signed a major student loan reform package into law. Starting July 1st, federal student loans will be handled directly by the government instead of banks and other lending companies. In future years, the maximum Pell grants will gradually increase, and after 2014, borrowers may take advantage of lower income-based payments and additional loan forgiveness opportunities. You may want to contact your financial aid office to learn how these changes could affect you.

6. Continue the scholarship hunt. Admittedly pickings are getting a little slim. Nevertheless, continue checking with scholarship websites like Cappex or FastWeb, and register to receive up-to-date information on competitions or other scholarship opportunities. Also, ask about the availability of additional or future scholarship money at your college or university. Sometimes an improvement in GPA may result in extra scholarship dollars. It never hurts to ask.

If you have questions concerning FAFSA on the Web, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. You can also contact the Center by email or request "live help" by pushing a button located within the pages of the FAFSA application.

Even at this late date, it’s worth playing the game to win.

No comments:

Post a Comment