Financial aid season is in full swing, so we thought we’d give you a special gift! Have you ever wondered about some of the most common mistakes on financial aid forms? Well, let me tell you two of the BIGGEST mistakes that can really cost you.
2 common mistakes:
- Leaving a field blank: All income questions MUST be completed on financial aid forms. If the answer is zero, or the question does not apply to you, write in or type a “0”. If you leave an income or asset question blank, the federal processor will assume that you forgot to answer the question. Fill it all out!
- Triple check your data entry: Be careful to write your Social Security Number (SSN) and date of birth accurately and clearly. Any errors in the SSN or date of birth will cause processing delays. We’ve seen parents put their social security numbers where a student’s number is supposed to go, and this causes big hiccups in getting your awards letters back. Make sure you triple check what you are entering and where you are entering it!
What are the consequences of making a mistake?
These college planning tips can help save you upwards of $15,000. We recall a family that came in for advice back in 2013 with several mistakes on their financial aid forms. These little mistakes cost that family $11,500 in FREE money. This was very concerning, but like many families they did not know where to turn for help during this process. They didn’t even know help existed! We’re here to tell you there is help out there. Make sure you are being careful and doing things the right way!
Also… remember financial aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Apply NOW! Some schools require a FAFSA be submitted by 2/15!!
If you have any questions give us a call to schedule an appointment at (661) 295-9946.
Alright folks, I always get asked to give checklists and tasks to families in search of financial aid. While I am not a huge fan of giving step-by-step instructions (every family’s situation is different, after all), I did cave a bit. Below are some different things you can be doing RIGHT NOW to maximize your chances of getting financial aid. When I say RIGHT NOW, I don’t mean senior year. These are things you should be considering early on.
Here we go!
1.) Make sure your child applies to at least 6-8 colleges/ universities
If you want to maximize your financial award offers then colleges need to have some competition. If you recall our blog from last month, we showed you how colleges can use the FAFSA to leverage their financial aid awards. We advise that you pick an assortment of “safety schools”, “competitive schools”, and “reach schools” and apply to them.
Also, try to weigh your college picks to ensure that your child is in the top 25% of the incoming freshmen class for at least 2/3’s of them. You can find statistics for SAT/ACT scores and G.P.A.’s on the schools’ admissions sites or via college guidebooks. If your child is a top candidate in comparison to the applicant pool, then he/she is in better standing to secure a good financial aid package.
2.) Find out how to value your home… the right way
Most families end up over-valuing their homes for the purposes of financial aid. As you may notice, the home values in California (where we live at CPE) are much higher than other parts of the country. If you list your home value based on California standards, then you may be losing thousands in aid. Instead, we advise you use what the schools use: “The Housing Index Multiplier.” This is based on your home’s original purchase price and the year you purchased it. Find out what your “multiplier” is via the tool and use this value for your home. It will help… a lot!
3.) Definitely partake in income and asset planning to lower your out-of-pocket costs
This may seem like common sense, but you MUST set up your finances in a way that will maximize your eligibility for college financial aid. What do we mean by setting up your finances in a way to maximize eligibility? Well, one thing is savings. Did you know custodial savings accounts are assessed at a higher percentage towards your family’s expected out-of-pocket contribution towards college than money saved in the parent(s)’ names? Well, if you didn’t you sure to now. Assets held in the wrong place will limit your chances of getting money. Think these things through: should a sibling attend college part-time to increase your eligibility? Are you properly valuing your real estate?
If you’re not sure, you’d better find out the answers to these questions before it’s too late!
4.) Don’t apply for Early Decision if you want to get the maximum award package a school can offer
If your child applies Early Decision for college then he/she is locked into going to that school. This is a huge mistake if you’re trying to get the maximum amount of money for college. The reality is that if a school knows you have to attend their institution if they accept you, then they have no competition for aid. They can award you whatever they want.
5.) Find each school’s individual deadlines for financial aid… they differ! Don’t miss one!
The earliest date you can file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is January 1; however, many private colleges and universities will also ask you to fill out a separate Financial Aid Profile (FAP). Different schools have different deadlines for this form, but they can open as early as October 1. That means, in some cases, your senior in high school will be applying for financial aid before applying to the college for admission. Crazy, we know! You have to be organized and know the rules for each school. Don’t miss a deadline – it will cost you a lot of money in lost financial aid!
6.) Look for private sources to fund college
I have to caution you here because you don’t want to waste too much time looking for private scholarships. Private scholarships make up roughly 3% of the total financial aid out there. The other 97% of aid comes from the government or from the school. You’ll want to spend most of your time in the 97%, but for the 3% of your time… focus on local awards from foundations, organizations, and corporations. You can usually get more information on these awards from your child’s high school guidance counselor.
7. Don’t let the schools give you a false sense of security
Most financial aid officers and high school guidance counselors tell parents, “Don’t worry about it – it’s an easy process. Just fill out the forms, and you’ll get an award letter.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Did you know that the definition of “net worth” on the FAFSA is not the same as the real world definition of “net worth?” If you read the subtext on the FAFSA for a separate definition of “net worth” then you would know, but how often do we read through the small font attached to a form? If we do, how detailed of a job do we do at reading it? The FAFSA is not straight forward, and neither are other financial aid forms from schools. You have to know the subtext of these questions to make sure you’re answering them correctly. If you want to get the maximum amount of money from each school, you’ve got to set up your finances properly, fill out the forms accurately and on-time, and negotiate with colleges and universities to get the best possible financial aid package.
While we 100% respect the hard work that high school counselors do for their students, they aren’t financial planning experts, nor are they whizzes at filling out financial aid forms. They are trained to guide their students from high school to college/ career. College financial aid officers may offer to help you apply for financial aid, but I always say that going to a financial aid officer and asking them to help you get more free money from their school is like going to the IRS and asking them to help you save money on your taxes! It’s not in a school’s best interest to teach you how to get more money from their school. They have a limited number of funds to give out to a large number of people.
So, there you have it! My checklist for aid is my gift to you. If this seems like a lot to handle on your own, we get it. We’d be happy to help! Call College Planning Experts at 661-295-9946 and schedule a free consultation. Just reference this Blog, and you’ll be able to meet with us, one-on-one for an entire hour, at no cost to you!
You read that right, folks. As college admissions trends show that college prep has hit the playground set.
Here’s the thing: I am in complete agreement that college conversation is and should be starting earlier than ever before. Does that mean we should be quizzing our 6 year-olds on SAT vocab words? No. What is does mean is that we have to live college conscience.
So many families wait until their children are late in their high school years to begin analyzing college lists, and this carries a tremendous cost. If you have not been really building your child up towards an ultimate career, a goal… then how do you expect them to figure out their lifelong journey in just one year?
I was speaking with a college counselor who works at quite the accomplished local school recently, and she gave me this tip. She said that Harvard is looking for passion. They don’t want to see an application from a high school student who decided she wanted to be a veterinarian in 10th grade and traveled to India to save an elephant in 11th grade. They want to see the 6 year old who fell in love with animals at the zoo, volunteered at a local animal shelter in junior high, researched a project on elephants in 10th grade, and went to India in 11th grade. Selective colleges in this country aren’t looking for a pre-packaged set of requirements to gain access. There is no checklist to get into an elite school: they are looking for unique drives and lifelong interest.
I encourage you, parent with young students, to start thinking now. How can you mold your child to find his/her dream? Do what Kelli Rigo’s class at Johnsonville Elementary School in rural Harnett County, N.C. does and start to research schools. Draw their mascots. Color in pictures of their grassy quads. Take a field trip to see a big, bad college campus. When you ignite the fire at a young age and give your child the power and ability to imagine themselves in college studying for a specific career, if only helps.
Believe it or not, College Planning Experts is already working with some 5th and 6th graders. If you want more information on how we can start to spark the college interest in your child, call us (661)295-9946.
Last week I had a very interesting conversation with a father of a junior in high school. He was convinced he should not complete the FAFSA because he thought if he revealed his financial information to colleges then they wouldn’t give his student scholarships and grants. He said he made too much money. He thought just selecting an interest in financial aid on the college application and submitting his student’s stellar SAT scores and awesome G.P.A. was enough. He said he could get merit aid, but not anything related to income.
Let me tell you, there are many ways to qualify for the “free” money in financial aid, and step one is submitting a FAFSA. It indicates to the school that you are looking for aid. If you don’t submit it and they don’t have your detailed information… you’re up a creek when it comes to aid. Even merit aid consideration (you know the aid given for test scores and grades) most often needs a FAFSA.
After this conversation, I got to thinking. I need to give YOU all the info when it comes to aid, so listen up! I am about to give you a few key pieces of knowledge to decode the “secret formula” financial aid departments use when awarding aid.
Financial aid awards are based on a federal formula that most families don’t understand. This formula is used by the colleges to determine exactly how many scholarships, grants, and loans your student will qualify for before they even look at your student.
Here’s the formula:
COA – EFC = Need
(Cost of Attendance) – (Expected Family Contribution) = Need
So… Step 1.) Make sure you understand the formula. Step 2.) Make sure you know how to lower your EFC. The lower your EFC, the higher your need, and the more likely you are to receive aid. Step 3.) If you have a “Need” then you can qualify for financial aid from the school.
If you’re wondering how to lower your EFC, consider this…
The top 6 factors affecting your EFC:
1) Parents Income (5-20% of your income goes to your EFC)
2) Parent’s Assets (10% of your assets goes to your EFC)
3) Student’s Income (20-50% of your student incomes goes to your EFC)
4) Student’s Assets (50% of your student assets goes to your EFC)
5) Number of Students in College
6) Number of members living in the house hold
If you’re curious what you can do to lower your EFC, look no further! College Planning Experts can help!
Insider Strategy #1- Shelter your home equity from the financial aid system
On the federal financial aid form (FAFSA) you do not have to include your primary home equity in the definition of personal net worth. As a result, make sure you exclude your home equity when the FAFSA asks for net worth, so your EFC does not get unfairly raised.
Insider Strategy #2- Don’t save money under the student’s name
Many of the families I speak with at our workshops have a significant amount of the money saved for their children under a “529 Plan” or another similar college savings account. This is an awful mistake when you understand how the financial aid system really operates. Assets under the students name are assessed up to 50 cents on the dollar, and as a result will translate into a higher EFC for the family. Should you save? Absolutely. Just don’t do it in the student’s name.
Insider Strategy #3- Significant assets, savings, and rental properties can all be sheltered from the financial aid system
One of the top reasons why any family can qualify for financial aid is because assets can be legally and ethically sheltered from the financial aid system (as long as you know what you’re doing). That’s what College Planning Experts helps our families to do! For example, if you have four rental properties, which collectively have over $1,000,000 of equity, you can open up a Limited Liability Corporation and shelter all the home equity under the new business. As long as you have less than 100 employees within the business, the business net worth (equity) can be listed as zero on the financial aid forms, and your assets in the form of rental properties are saved. This strategy could qualify for you for massive amounts of financial aid without having to tap into your retirement or change your current lifestyle.
Now, I just gave you three HUGE tips in the financial aid process, but there are over 163 ways to lower your EFC in the financial aid formula, and there are different strategies for different families. If you want to know what would work best for you, call us 661-295-9946! We would love to schedule a one-on-one appointment to see how we can effectively manage your financial aid award. The father of the junior I mentioned earlier? He’ll be in next Tuesday.
While you might have a child in middle school or one that is a freshman, believe me it is not too early to start thinking college. Now don’t worry—I am not trying to scare you into prepping for tests and hunting down head hunters tonight; I am trying to convey the benefits of getting a jump start in the admissions realm.
So few families start thinking about college before junior year of high school. And when I say thinking, I mean really thinking critically about schools, majors, careers, financial aid, etc. I know when I went through the college admissions process 10+ years ago I didn’t give it a second thought until the end of my high school career. Think about it. When did you start picking your ideal schools and majors?
The thing is college admissions has changed. It is becoming more competitive at a lot of schools, so what do you do? You start your plan now. At College Planning Experts we actually have students as young as 10 years old. I know that is a little more so on the early side, but it is because those families want to feel prepared. They want to know they have a team on their side directing them towards success. If you really think about it, when do professional athletes begin playing and perfecting their sports? They start playing young and they get better at it. Isn’t a career also a profession? You should start making small steps to your destination now. It will give you a competitive edge.
Benefit number one: More options
Most students are only looking at “name brand” schools. They recognize these colleges on E.S.P.N. every Saturday, in their local neighborhoods, and from their family and friends. But did you know there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States? That is a lot of potential schools. The trouble with waiting until the end of high school to start researching the vast options out there is that there is less time. There is less time to look through websites, stalk schools on Facebook and Twitter, visit institutions, email professors, etc. If you wait until you have 6 months to one year before an application is due you are setting yourself up for less options. Remember, high school students also have courses to take, homework to complete, and extracurricular activities to attend. They devote a lot of time to their regular lives and leave less time for college prep. While only 250 schools out of the 4,000+ admit less than 50% of their applicants (making them selective) and just 50 admit less than 25% of their applicants (making them highly selective), admissions seems tough. Well… that’s because you’re competing against all of the other students applying to the same handful of schools. Start early and find those hidden gem institutions.
Benefit number two: Better grades
Getting into college also requires students to be strong academics. If you are thinking about grades early then you have a better chance to applying to colleges with a stellar G.P.A. So many times we have had families that set college to the back of their mind, and then junior year they come in to our offices to begin preparations for school. Jeffrey, for example, came in in Spring of his junior year and his parents hired us to get him college bound. Well… Jeffrey also entered high school and had a fairly strong freshman year with a 3.5 G.P.A., but then sophomore year (with college out of sight and out of mind) his G.P.A. dropped to 3.3. Then the beginning of junior year when he got off-campus lunch privileges he began to skip his after lunch class here and there, and his grades suffered once again. Now his G.P.A. is a 3.2. Don’t get me wrong because that is still a pretty strong grade point average, but think about it. If he had the goal of college in his mind and was regularly checking in with a counselor or with his parents on his end destination, wouldn’t he have had more focus? Also, wouldn’t his parents have been more up-to-date information on admissions trends and grade averages at schools to ensure Jeffrey was properly studying and attending class? When you start at a younger age and the family is working towards a shared goal, the end result is easier. There won’t be cramming sessions at the end of junior year to try to bring up the G.P.A., lots of money spent on tutoring to relearn some of the topics and lessons that fell to the weigh side, and added stress senior year when you need to finish strong. Don’t be like Jeffrey; start thinking about how grades progress and the need to do well!
Benefit number three: More developed applicant
As the Huffington Post pointed out in an article yesterday, “Selective colleges are also looking for specialists from a well-rounded class, and a scattered extracurricular list with one-off activities isn’t that impressive. Students should focus on a few clubs and activities that meet their interests, and become deeply involved. College admissions committees love to see students attaining increasing positions of leadership in their activities, so students shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there in club elections or even to form their own clubs or organizations.” You get all that? Basically, if students start finding their passion at an early age they have time to build their resume. They can participate in an activity and move on to a leadership role as they get older and better. Colleges want to see that. What they don’t want to see is an applicant that did a different club or sport every single year. That shows that said applicant might not really know what they want to do in the long-term and that said applicant may not be committed to staying at their institution long enough to graduate. Too many times I see parents advising their child to participate in certain groups because it makes them look better for college. Should a child participate? Absolutely. Does that mean they need to be on the track team, sing in the choir, play baseball, lead the mock team, and head the robotics team? No. They should find a focus and stick to it.
I know this is a long post, but really what it comes down to is this: if you want to have less stress in the college admissions process then start early. It is so much easier to spread out preparations over a few years rather than a few months. You’ll have time to build a strong G.P.A., craft a wonderful list of schools, and develop your story and interests. If you’re concerned about taking the lead on this long project then hire a college planner. College Planning Experts would be happy to meet with you one-on-one to see if we’re a good fit for your family. Call us at (661)295-9946 or email us at Support@CollegePlanningExperts.com.
As I always say, it’s not enough to know the stuff. In college admissions you have to know the stuff behind the stuff.
As we sail full speed ahead in this FAFSA season, we need to be careful. Not only do we need to fill out all of the line items correctly, we also need to strategize. I, Brian Safdari of College Planning Experts, always explain to clients that, “there is an art form to completing the FAFSA. You have to do it the right way to reap the rewards.” In an article posted by US News this past November we learned that the FAFSA is not always used solely in financial aid decisions.
The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a required form in order to be considered for financial aid in college. Well, that’s not the only thing it is used for is it? According to Kalman Chany, author of “Paying for College Without Going Broke, 2015 Edition,” many schools weigh their admissions decisions on the order students list colleges on their FAFSA’s. Hey, seniors–are you freaking out?
To explain, on the FAFSA you can list up to 10 schools. It has been observed that, psychologically speaking, students are more likely to put the schools that they truly want to attend at the top. Noel-Levitz, a company that advises colleges on recruitment, recently released research that reviewed 153 college campuses. They found students who listed an institution first on the FAFSA enrolled at that institution at a 64 percent rate. That means students listing their top choice first on the FAFSA were more likely to be admitted and more likely to accept their admission. Because colleges are ranked according to their selectivity (or ability to get a ton of applicants and only select a small percentage of them), some argue that this is a null point; however, colleges also care about their yield. They want to accept students who will want to attend. If a student lists their institution 10th on their FAFSA, how does that look to a school?
This information is eye opening to say the least, but let’s also consider financial aid (you know… the thing the FAFSA is supposed to be used for in the college process). Colleges may extend a strong financial aid offer to a student who listed it first on the FAFSA and set aside less aid for a student who lists it last. This uses the assumption that the applicant isn’t planning to attend school #10 anyway. Or… maybe colleges will strategize differently. If they know you’re dying to attend their college perhaps they won’t give you as much aid because they know you’ll attend if accepted. Maybe they try to make themselves more money?
I know, this can seem overwhelming. What can you do to leverage yourself for admission and the most financial aid? If you want to know what to do, I recommend working with an expert. College Planning Experts lives in the world of college applications, essays, financial aid forms, and tests. We know how to strategically work with individual families to ensure they are doing what is best for them. If you want to learn more about how we can help, call us (661)295-9946. If you want to give it a shot on your own, that is okay too. Just make sure… you learn the stuff behind the stuff. You’ll be grateful you did.
Here are the top mistakes when filling out the FAFSA:
FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid
- Not applying because families “THINK” they won’t qualify
- Having 1 letter or number wrong on your name, address, or Social Security Number
- Sending in the FAFSA late (PRIORITY DATE VARIES BY SCHOOL)
- Waiting until your 2014 tax returns are filed to complete the FAFSA
- Not having enough time to file correctly
- Going to the wrong website for the FAFSA
I want to remind all local and national families that have a high school senior or transfer student heading to college this coming fall to apply for financial aid NOW. We personally hand hold all income-level families through the college admissions & financial aid process and believe me, there is financial aid for all income level families.
APPLY HERE: FAFSA.gov
Financial aid is on a first come first serve basis. Here is a worksheet for more information to help you fill out your FAFSA:
FAFSA Worksheet (PDF) – provides a preview of the questions that you may be asked while completing the FAFSA online
If you have any questions feel free to call our office and speak to one of our certified college planners today at (661) 295-9946. We will be happy to clear up any information and even show you how we help families get an average of $22,000 per year in free grants and scholarships!
The levy in question would increase taxes on college savings accounts known as “529 plans.” These savings accounts are often set up by parents with some extra money to put aside to save towards future college costs. As you may recall, College Planning Experts has stated in the past that we are not the biggest fans of 529 plans because they are assessed at a higher percentage towards one’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in paying for college and can leave less financial aid eligibility on the table, but regardless of our opinion, many families use them. The money put into the accounts is after tax dollars (the saver already paid income taxes on their paycheck—they take part of their income and set it aside). The account grows with interest and when ready, the parent can withdraw from the account tax free and use the money towards college.
Now, here is where it gets interesting. Congress wants to tax the withdraw. They are suggesting that the families that have 529 plans are upper-income families, and they need to pay more taxes on these accounts. But when you really examine that, these savings plans are primarily created by middle class families. Poorer households don’t have the extra income to save, and if they did it most likely would go towards a home or a retirement plan. The very wealthy families could use 529 plans, but when income and assets reach a certain threshold, those families typically set up trusts, investments, etc. It seems to us that these tax hikes are not targeting upper-income families as Congress suggests. They are targeting middle-income families.
Forbes released an article today and quoted that, “47 percent of families that had [529 plans] earned more than $150,000 per year.” Well, what about the other 53 percent that fall below the threshold? That is the majority after all. Forbes also points out that “there’s an average balance of about $21,000 in these plans.” It doesn’t seem like the wealthy are using 529’s to shelter assets and income. If they were there would be a much larger average balance in these accounts.
Getting into college is tough enough, and saving for it shouldn’t be hard. College Planning Experts disagrees with this suggested tax hike because if you’re putting money into the account post-tax dollars, it should never face taxation again. Too bad we’re not the ones writing legislation.
If you’re now pondering how you’re going to afford your child’s future college costs, call us (661)295-9946. We will go over all of your options to ensure you’re set up for success based on your specific situation and individual needs. We work with families at all income levels, and believe us—there is a way for you to afford school.
It is January, so you know what that means. We are now approaching a stressful time for most high school seniors: college acceptance season. As students sit home and wait for their email to buzz or the postman to deliver a large package (not a small envelope—they never want the small envelope from a college), they relish, “Did I do everything right? Were my SAT scores high enough? Did I participate in the right clubs? Did my essay adequately convey my humble, yet confident, yet extroverted personality?”
Well, we’re here to tell you to breathe. It will be okay.
The college admission process has developed a lot over the past ten years, and more and more families stress whether or not their children will be admitted to their choice schools. We can confidently say that if your senior did his or her research on schools and applied to at least 5 of them, he or she should be okay. College Planning Experts stresses the importance of broadening your horizons. Don’t apply to only “name brand” schools just because they’re the only ones of which you’ve heard before. Don’t limit yourself to colleges that only admit less than 10% of their applicants because you’re setting yourself up for a good chance of rejection. The value of education doesn’t weigh solely on the commercial brand of a school. A college education involves many aspects, like networking, research ability, class sizes, access to professors, etc. Cast a wide net, and you’ll definitely catch something.
This brings me to my next point: did you know there are almost 4,000 colleges in the United States? Have you heard of Jarvis Christian College in Texas? How about Bismarck State College in North Dakota? Well if you haven’t, maybe look into them. Both of these schools are reported to have admitted 100% of their applicant pool this past year. That’s right… pause… 100%. Maybe it is because there aren’t many teenagers who are high on the idea of moving to the “warm” environment of North Dakota. Or maybe it is because these kids haven’t heard of a school that doesn’t have a football team playing on ESPN on Saturdays in the Fall. Either way, these are perfect examples of solid colleges in need to qualified students.
We are here to tell you.. there are options. If you have younger students at home, please keep this in mind. With the right investment in time and research, you are sure to find the right colleges for your child. If you’re interested in learning more, just call us! College Planning Experts has proprietary software to find these hidden gems and match students to their best fit colleges. It’s the most important piece of the puzzle because if you’re going to invest something that can cost us much as your mortgage… you want to make sure it is a college where your child will get in and thrive.
When I am presenting workshops several times a month, there are several commonly asked questions parents tend to have. What I like to do from time to time is have a Q & A at my workshops regarding the most pressing concerns. Over the past few months (October-November) I have met with many families with children in middle school. The most common question that parents ask is this:
“When is the best time to start the college planning process?”
I have seen a common trend of parents starting this process earlier and earlier; so what is the best answer to this question and why is it so important?
The answer is simple: START. RIGHT NOW.
Here are 5 main benefits of why you should start the college planning process in 8th grade:
- Increase college acceptance rate
- Increase 9th – 11th grade GPA & SAT/ACT scores
- Increase scholarship & grant potential
- Better career placement opportunities
- MORE time, LESS stress!
There are two main parts to the college planning puzzle – finding the best fit college & funding it.
Is it wise to wait until you’re 50 to start your retirement savings? What about waiting until you already have a bachelors or master’s degree to start looking for your dream job?
The three biggest financial burdens that most families I meet with have are paying off their house, staying debt free, and funding college for their children. This makes the answer pretty simple. Start the college planning process now, financially and academically. If you are typically one to hold things off until last minute, then take my advice and start your process towards the middle to end of your student’s 8th grade year.
Is it too late? What if your student is a junior or senior in high school, are you too late? No. Moving forward you might have less options/opportunities, but you are not too late. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me, comment below, or visit us on Facebook and send us a message!