Category Archives: CSS PROFILE

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.

FAFSA vs Profile

The FAFSA gets a lot of attention right around now, but it’s only one of two financial aid forms. The other is the CSS Profile, used primarily by private colleges and universities.

The Profile differs from the FAFSA in several major respects: Continue reading FAFSA vs Profile

FAFSA Basics: Parent Assets

Parent assets seem to be the area that most families and planners focus on, despite the fact that they typically have the smallest impact on the formula of each of the components. Strategies and tactics to minimize parent assets abound, but for most families these result more in nibbling around the edges than actually making a significant dent in EFC. Continue reading FAFSA Basics: Parent Assets

Better EFC Strategies

I get tons of questions about strategies for reducing EFC, especially those related to the Asset Protection Allowance. And there are plenty, but sheltering assets is typically the lowest bang-for-the-buck strategy out there: Every $1,000 you shelter will only reduce your EFC by $54. And that assumes that the school will meet your full need. Here are some better options: Continue reading Better EFC Strategies

College Prep by Grade

I gave a financial aid talk to college and career center volunteers at our high school recently. One question stood out: “This is a lot of information to absorb at once. Can you break it down into some specific suggestions by grade?” Two ideas are important here: College planning is a process that should start well before senior year, and there are things that can be done at any point to make things go more smoothly when the time comes to start applying. So here goes. Continue reading College Prep by Grade

Special Circumstances

Special circumstances refers to anything in the applicant’s financial situation that is not reflected on the FAFSA or CSS Profile. The Profile has an actual space for applicants to detail special circumstances. For FAFSA schools, applicants may have to appeal their aid award and go through the Professional Judgment (PJ) process. If this might apply to you, you should understand the decision-making criteria and process so that special circumstances you’re detailing are in fact special circumstances in the financial aid world. Continue reading Special Circumstances

FAFSA for Divorced Parents

This is a big topic so for today I’m going to focus on general rules. Keep in mind the FAFSA rules are different from the CSS Profile rules; below is FAFSA only.

The custodial parent for the FAFSA can be different than the custodial parent in the divorce decree and/or different from who claims the student as a dependent on their tax return. The FAFSA defines the custodial parent as “The parent that you lived with most Continue reading FAFSA for Divorced Parents

EFC, Net Cost and Aid Packaging

Step 1 in figuring out how to pay for college is estimating your EFC. You can use the FAFSA4caster, or the more detailed EFC Formula Guide (note that’s for 2018-2019; the 2019-2020 version should be released this month). But EFC is just a starting point: schools aren’t required to meet your need, and they certainly aren’t required to meet it through gift aid. That’s why net cost and aid packaging are important concepts to understand. Continue reading EFC, Net Cost and Aid Packaging