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Dollars & Sense: College Bound in 2020?

By Roberta L. Nestor

A student’s senior year in high school will come with many social and academic challenges.  However, nothing is more difficult than the college application and financial aid process.  For parents the challenge will come with getting your teen to actually sit down and begin the process.  Just like many things in life, the college process is based on first come, first serve and procrastinating on this very important endeavor for your future can be costly.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) really is free.  It is a free chance to receive money, which is an opportunity no one should turn down.  All financial aid is need-based and merit-based.  The financial aid is given as a scholarship (free money), grants (semi-free money), and loans (money you have to pay back usually with interest).

You can begin the FAFSA process as early as October 1st.  Even if you are not sure of where you are going to college, or if you will be accepted – you still should go through the FAFSA process as early as possible.  Most colleges will not offer scholarships or grants without having completed the FAFSA.  The on-line process is generally the best option because you can finish faster, it also connects directly to the IRS for verification and you can sign it by using your FSA ID on the computer instead of printing it out and mailing it.

The first step will be to establish your FSA ID.  This is a username and password that you will use to log into the actual FASFA website.  It takes 1 – 3 days to verify you and your information.  Parent’s and children’s names must match exactly as stated on your social security card(s).  If you or your parents have had a name change, and the social security records do not match, it can delay the process of obtaining your FSA ID.  Other information will include permanent mailing address, phone number and email address, marital status and driver’s license (or other federal issued ID).

They will also ask you about your dependency status.  If you are dependent, then you need your parental demographic section filled out.  Independent students, you will provide your information and if you are married, your spouse’s.  Determining whether you are dependent or independent is separate from how you file IRS tax forms.  They do not affect each other.  You can be financial self-sufficient, file your own tax return, live on your own, but you may still be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA.

If you have a blended family, the information needed is based on if your parents are:

  • Legally married and living together – you provide information on both parents;
  • If your parents live together but are not married – you provide information on both parents;
  • Parents are divorced or separated and do not live together – the parent information with whom you live with the most 12 months is required. If it is equally time with each parent, then the information for the parent who supports you the most is needed;
  • If you have a step-parent married to the legal parent you live with, you must provide information on the legal parent and the step-parent;
  • If your step-parent was married to your legal parent but has passed away, you do not include the step-parent information; and
  • Same sex marriages require information on both parents.

Note that not only will the student have to go through this initial process to obtain the FSA ID, but parent(s) will as well.  Once you receive your ID then you can start the actual application process.  This will involve having all parties 2018 tax returns available.  FAFSA uses the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to match up the financial information you provide with tax returns.  You are not eligible to use the DRT if your parents file their taxes as “married filing separately”; if both legal parents live together but are not married; if there is a change in your parent’s marital status before the end of the tax year; if there is a different home address on FAFSA and federal tax return or if you have filed a foreign income tax return.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  Most local high schools are offering summer presentations about FAFSA and the college application process.  Mom and Dad, ask your financial advisor for help, especially when it comes to your investments.  Your advisor can help you determine what is considered a countable asset and what is not.  While there is literally a ton of information available on-line, the most reliable is the actual website for FAFSA:  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.

Roberta L. Nestor is a financial advisor practicing at 491 New Haven Avenue in Milford, CT offering retirement, long term care, investment and tax planning services.  She also offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network – a member FINRA/SIPC and a Registered Investment Adviser.  Fixed insurance products offered through Nestor Financial Network are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.  Commonwealth Financial Network or Nestor Financial Network does not provide legal or tax advice.  You should consult a legal or tax professional regarding your individual situation.  Roberta can be reached at Nestor Financial Network, 203-876-8066 or roberta@nestorfinancial.com.

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