Monthly Archives: December 2014

Common FAFSA Mistakes

Get ready: the FAFSA is coming. The 2015-2016 FAFSA will be available in just a couple of days, on Jan. 1. Here are some common mistakes people make in completing the FAFSA:

  • Not doing it: Yes, the FAFSA takes time but no, you should not skip it, even if you don’t think you’ll be eligible for aid. Why not? Because you have to file the FAFSA in order to be eligible for federal education loans like the Stafford, Perkins or PLUS loan, which are available to all students, or parents as applicable, regardless of income.
  • Overstating assets: Retirement assets and equity in your primary residence don’t count as assets on the FAFSA so don’t include them.
  • Procrastinating: You can do the FAFSA without having filed your taxes, so don’t wait. A great deal of aid is first-come, first-served, so delaying only hurts you. Some Oregon deadlines are as follows:
    • OR Opportunity Grant: Feb. 1
    • OSAC Private scholarships: March 1
    • University of Oregon: March 1
    • Oregon State University: Feb. 28
  • Understating income: If you contributed to a tax-deferred savings plan in 2014 (401(k), traditional IRA or other plan using pre-tax dollars), you will be asked to add that contribution back to your income when filing the FAFSA.
  • Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: If you use this, then once your tax return is filed you can update your FAFSA with the correct information from the IRS. You will need to provide this information, and this is the fastest, most accurate way of doing so.
  • Not having your ducks in a row before you start: Assuming your student is a dependent, you’ll need the following:
    • Parents’ and student’s SSNs
    • Student’s driver’s license number
    • Federal tax information for both parents (if married; custodial parent and stepparent if applicable if divorced) and student
    • Records of untaxed income for parents and student– child support received, nontaxable interest, etc.
    • Information on checking and savings accounts, investments including 529 Plan accounts and investment property, and business assets
  • Data entry errors: Incorrect SSNs, driver’s license numbers, blank fields, missing signatures will all delay or torpedo your application, so triple-check them.

2015-2016 FAFSA Worksheet and Calculator

When it comes to financial aid formulas, there is a man behind the curtain and it’s important to find him. The FAFSA 4caster is great for getting an estimate, but it doesn’t tell you how it came up with that estimate. And knowledge is power: understanding the formulas gives you some room to adjust your financial picture to improve your chances of getting aid.

Here is the actual worksheet with the specific calculations in the FAFSA formula.  Go get ’em.

Is Getting Into a Good School Really So Difficult?

With the college application season in full swing and many high school seniors– and their parents– in full “what if I don’t get in anywhere” panic mode, it’s worth looking at how difficult it really is to get into college. Colleges have become more selective, true, but does that really mean your kid isn’t likely to get in anywhere?

In a recent New York Times article, Kevin Carey argues that “For well-qualified students, getting into a good college isn’t difficult. It probably isn’t that much harder than it was generations ago. The fact that everyone believes otherwise shows how reliance on a single set of data — in this case, institutional admission rates — can create a false sense of what’s really going on.” Read his analysis here.

This doesn’t mean your kid is going to be accepted. What it does mean, though, is that students are well-served by doing their homework to find schools where they are a good match, and applying there.