Monthly Archives: January 2020

What Year? (2020 Edition)

It’s hard keeping track of what matters when in the prior-prior year world of the FAFSA and CSS Profile. Here is a table summarizing tax year and asset dates for the next few college years:

School Year 2020-2021 2021-2022 2022-2023 2023-2024 2024-2025 2025-2026 2026-2027
FAFSA/ PROFILE Income Tax Year 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
Assets As Of Oct* 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
AOTC Tax Year** 2020, 2021 2021, 2022 2022, 2023 2023, 2024 2024, 2025 2025, 2026 2026, 2027

To summarize based on where you are in high school:

Sophomores, this year is your first FAFSA income year. This year is your base year for EFC purposes. All future years will be compared to 2020.

Juniors (and seniors), 2020 income will also count for you for FAFSA purposes, but not until your second year of college. Families of juniors should think about what retirement contributions they can make this year and what to do with student summer job earnings to remove assets from the calculation come fall.

* Assets are as of the filing date, which may be as early as October or into the following year depending on the school’s filing date.

** Remember that the AOTC can only be claimed for four tax years, so families should decide whether the fall of freshman year is better than spring of senior year for claiming. With the income limit of $160,000 (married filing joint) or $80,000 (single), some families might not be eligible every year.

Parents may find that different strategies are needed during different years. For example, a family with a student beginning college in fall of 2022 might reduce pre-tax retirement contributions this year (to increase taxes, which are deducted from income on the FAFSA and therefore reduce EFC) and then maximize contributions beginning in 2022 to reduce AGI for AOTC claiming purposes.

Thinking of Transferring? Think Fast

If your student came home for the holidays unenthusiastic about their school and considering transferring, your first impulse might be to tell them to tough it out for the year and reconsider come summer. While that’s probably good parenting advice, it might not be good financial advice. In fact, students who are thinking of transferring are usually best off making the decision sooner rather than later.

Why? Because most schools offer substantially larger financial aid packages to incoming freshmen than to transfer students, and only those with less than a set number of post-high school credits qualify as incoming freshmen. Furthermore, once students have accumulated a certain number of college credits, their transfer application is based on their college GPA, not high school. A student who did well in high school but then underperformed in college will probably want their high school GPA to be the basis of an admissions decision.

The differences can be huge. For example, the highest merit award for incoming freshmen at the University of Oregon is $15,000 annually (a student receiving the Summit and Presidential award), and those scholarships renew automatically for four years. Transfer students, on the other hand, are eligible for a maximum of $3,000 in merit aid and must reapply every year. Similarly, the University of Florida offers up to $10,000 in merit aid to freshmen; as for transfer students, “While the Office of Admissions does not offer scholarship opportunities for transfer students, there are two scholarships offered by the Office of Undergraduate Affairs dedicated to Florida College Transfers.” These are a maximum of $4,000 and offered to a total of 12 students, with only two receiving the maximum $4,000 award.

If your student is thinking of transferring, they should research transfer vs freshman requirements and financial aid eligibility at the school they’d like to transfer to ASAP because this is one instance where a quick decision is often the best decision.

Establishing Credit for Your Student

It’s probably a good thing that today’s students, unlike their parents, are more likely to be handed a free t-shirt than a new credit card as they walk across campus. For students graduating in the 1980s and 1990s, credit card debt was a more likely millstone than student loans. Rules that went into effect in 2010 drastically reduced students’ access to credit cards. Continue reading Establishing Credit for Your Student