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2024-2025 FAFSA FORM – Continuing Issues and Delays

This 2024-2025 college application year is one for the books…

We (schools, parents and especially students) have endured delay after delay for the newly overhauled FAFSA- the Federal form for applying for financial aid, which the government uses to determine student eligibility for financial aid and schools also use to determine how they will award their own funds.

The most recent delay coming this week when the Department of Education announced, the day before the ISIRS (Institutional Student Information Records) were supposed to start arriving at schools, that they were in fact, not going to start arriving at schools until “the first half of March”. This means that for anyone who completed a FAFSA, schools are not going to have those records to start reviewing until at least mid-March. This cuts the time even more and SIGNICANTLY for financial aid offices, who will need to scramble to review the FAFSA forms and try to get their financial aid offer letters out to freshman applicants in time to decide on where to go to college by May 1. A decision which for many families, depends in large part on how much it will cost the family out of their pocket after any merit scholarships and financial aid. Families will be receiving these letters months later than usual this year.

Some of the issues are also that some students and parents are having difficulty accessing and signing the form. Due to the processing delays, there is also the issue of not being able to correct the form until the records are processed and are sent to the schools. So, if you know you have made a mistake, you cannot correct it for another few weeks at least.

First, for freshmen applying to college for fall of 2024, this creates an extra layer of uncertainty and stress, estimating that they will not know how much aid they will receive and how much they will need to pay to attend the schools on their list until likely past April 1. For their parents, even greater stress.

Second, for students returning to college, they need to know if their aid package will change, based on the overhaul in the Department of Education’s formula on the brand new FAFSA this year. For example, the loss of the “sibling discount” for families having more than one child in college at the same time.

Ways You Can Take Advantage of the Extra Time:

  • Apply for private scholarships. This is the time they are open. Search locally, with your high school guidance office and qualified search sites. See my links
  • Consider appealing for more merit scholarship money. If you have offers from competing schools, or if you know your school offers higher merit scholarships, you may have a good chance at an appeal. Schools still need to secure enrollment for their fall class of students during these delays, and if there is a chance for an applicant to deposit early, they may have incentive to increase the offer.
  • If you have extenuating circumstances, don’t wait to reach out to the financial aid offices. If you have had situation over the past year that may have affected your finances, such as a job loss, you will want to reach out the financial aid offices to ask about their process for appeals if it is not clear on their website, so that you can be prepared to send documentation when they are ready to receive it.
  • Do some assessment of your financial plan to pay for college. Although you may not have the net cost confirmed for any of your schools. Start planning for what resources you will be using to cover out of pocket costs for college over the next 4 years and make a list. Will you be using a 529? Savings? Making payments monthly to the school? Borrowing? Or a combination of the above? Start planning out what you have for resources so that when you begin getting final offers from the schools, you will know how your finances match up.

Check the websites for your school list:

Decision Dates: Some schools have or are considering changing their decision date of May 1 this year due to the FAFSA delays.

Be sure to check all the websites for the schools on your list to see if they have extended their May 1 decision to commit date.

Financial Aid process: Some schools may have created their own preliminary financial aid form due to the Department of Education delay of the FAFSA. Also, schools that use the CSS Profile (between 250-300 schools) may be sending out offers ahead of receiving the FAFSA records for applicants, due to the fact that the CSS Profile form has not changed and opened in October.

Be sure to check the financial aid pages of your school websites to see if your schools have created and require new forms or are using the CSS Profile due to the FAFSA delays.

The bottom line is that the 2020 Congressional laws passed that required significant changes to the FAFSA form with the intention of making more students eligible for aid and the form completion easier has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for college students and families for the 2024-2025 year as the rollout has been anything but smooth.

In light of these delays of information – essentially knowing the cost you will pay out of pocket for each school on your list – which is crucial for most families in order to decide on college, some families may decide not to apply for financial aid, thus leaving money on the table and spending more out of their pockets next year. Some schools require the FAFSA form to award their merit scholarships and/or some free grant money that is sometimes even offered to those applicants who are not eligible for need-based financial aid by the FAFSA form, in order to entice students to commit.

Of course, as in my previous articles, my advice is to weather the storm, and do the form and be more vigilant than ever staying on top of deadlines and information gathering in this last sprint in your college decision. It will be worth it in the end.

 

New Year, New FAFSA

After Congress approved some major changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) a few years ago, the US Department of Education has taken years to fully implement the changes and overhaul the FAFSA form.

The target date for release of the new form, October 1, 2023, was missed.

The Department of Education then announced a “soft launch” by December 31, meaning that the form would be open by December 31 at the latest (it opened that day for two hours), but also be intermittently closed from time to time for review and maintenance.

These fits and starts have caused students, families, and financial aid offices to play the waiting game and adjust their financial aid timelines.

New York Times columnist Ron Lieber’s article I Spent New Year’s Eve Trying to Do the FAFSA. It Didn’t Go Well, published on January 1, summed up some of the frustrations experienced by families trying to complete the FAFSA form when it opened at the end of December.

Many of the kinks, as of mid-January, now seem to have been worked out.

While families should complete the form as soon as they can, they should not worry about getting it done immediately.

The US Department of Education has indicated that it will not be sending the information to schools until the end of January at the earliest. So, it may be best to wait a week or so more to ensure a clear path to completion.

Noted Changes to the New 2024-2025 FAFSA Form:

  • Form length. The new FAFSA form is considerable shorter. The form has been reduced from 108 questions to about 46, or less, depending on your situation.
  • The custodial parent is now who contributed the most financially for the student. For divorced families, the parent required to complete the FAFSA used to be whomever the student lived with the most in the previous year. It is now whomever contributes the most financially.
  • Pretax Contributions to a retirement account (from W-2 box 12) is no longer required for untaxed income. See form for exceptions such as SEP.
  • If a parent owns a business, it must be disclosed on the form. Previously, if a parent owned a business but there were under 100 employees, they were not required to list the business value on the form. Now ALL parent-owned businesses must be listed. You should list the value after any debt.
  • 529 Accounts. Previously all parent-owned 529 accounts for any children had to be included in the investments section. Now only a 529 for the student on the application must be listed. 529s in grandparent’s or relative’s names are NOT included.
  • Students and parents are now required to give “Consent” which must be given for the Direct Data Exchange (previously called the IRS Data Retrieval). For the FAFSA to be processed, the student and parent must give “consent” which will automatically populate income information, except for a few situations.
  • Students and parents are now called “Contributors”. This does NOT mean they are required to contribute financially. The student must “invite” the parent to be a contributor.
  • EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) is now called the SAI (Student Aid Index). This is the number created by the formula to determine a student’s eligibility, based on the information on their FAFSA application which the government and schools use to award need-based aid.
  • The number of students in college is still listed on the form but is no longer considered in the eligibility calculation. If the student will have one or more siblings in college at the same time for the coming year, or has in past years, this will no longer lower the student’s SAI. The result for parents is that having more than one dependent in college at the same time does not necessarily translate to more need-based financial aid. For current students in this situation, talk to your financial aid counselor for information on how this may affect your aid.
  • Maximum number of schools you can list on the form. The previous FAFSA limited applicants to 10 schools. You may now list up to 20 schools to receive your FAFSA form.

My recommendation is for every student to complete the FAFSA form, especially in year one.

Some schools award non-need-based grants and merit scholarships only to students who complete the form. Also, this is the only way to take advantage of using the Federal Student Loans if you intend to do any borrowing for college.

To complete the 2024-2025 FAFSA form, go to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa and click on the link “Start New Form.”

After completing the FAFSA form, watch for an email from the US Department of Education with the “FAFSA Submission Summary” (previously called the Student Aid Report) which has information about your FAFSA application.

Also, watch for school communications from colleges your student has been admitted to and to whom they have sent the FAFSA. Schools will begin sending out financial aid offer letters once they start receiving and processing the FAFSA forms from the Department of Education. If you have any questions regarding these offers, contact the financial aid office at the school. Timelines at each school will vary, especially with this year’s delays.

If you would like information on how we can help your personal situation with our college planning service, please sign up for a free 30-minute consultation on our website.

For additional FAFSA and college planning please see our College Planning articles on our website Blog.

Holiday Break- Great Time to Discuss College Expectations

After the much needed and joyful celebrations with families and friends coming up this month, the holiday break for students is a great time to have a family discussion on college.

Often parents have a slightly less hectic schedule as well, and you can come together to have some meaningful discussions so that you are all on the same page when the college action list ramps up this summer.

Students- this is a great time to engage your parents in your college search and let them know how they can help you.

Parents- this is a great time to learn what your student would like to study and achieve with their college education and experience.

Items to consider:

  • Start your research and college list– Look for a school that fits your major, size of school you’d like to be at, and that falls within your requirements and geographical areas you want to be in.
  • Make a Test Prep Plan-Consider which tests you will take (ACT, SAT) and decide if you will take prep courses and map out deadlines to register.
  • Continue to Get Involved in Areas of Interest and Consider Volunteering or Working in them– Look in areas that interest you and that you are passionate about so that it is genuine when you list these on your applications next fall.
  • Check Open House Schedules for Potential Colleges– There are many open houses in spring. Schedule visits with the schools you are seriously considering and plan any travel.
  • Meet With Your High School Counselor– Meet with your counselor and see what help they have available to you. Get engaged and let them know what your goals are for college.
  • Set Up or Plan Your Senior Class Schedule– Review possible courses with your counselor. For example, will you take AP classes? Continue to challenge yourself.
  • Make a List of Teachers and Mentors– List anyone whom you may want to ask for letters of recommendation during your application process next fall. Have a conversation with them to let them know.
  • Start Working on Your College Essay– It is never too early to start, and you will likely have many iterations of your essay before you complete applications.

Finally, start a conversation together about finances.

Parents may want to set expectations for what kind of financial support they can provide and what they expect from the student as well, in terms of contributing to their education.

This is a crucial component to look at costs and your finances, so that you can consider this important factor when making your college list.

Don’t wait until you decide on a school to estimate your out-of-pocket costs. Start thinking of a financial plan now and what resources you may have, and how much you may need.

For example, if you are considering an exclusive Ivy League school, many of them do not offer merit scholarships. So, use their Net Price Calculator to get an idea if you would be eligible for financial aid (need-based aid). If you are likely not eligible for free grant money based on need, keep in mind you may pay close to the full cost at that school.

Remember, next holiday season you will be looking forward to your acceptance letters as confirmation of the work and thought you are all putting into this process now. The benefit will hopefully be finding the best college choice- for all of you.

 

 

It’s a Wrap: Finishing Up College Applications

Admissions Applications

 Some congratulations are in order if you’re helping a high school senior through the college application process: you’ve made it this far.

There have been college visits, checklists, discussions, applications, essays, and life sprinkled in the mix over the last year as college admissions activities and “to-do” lists have ramped up, especially this fall.

While the upcoming decision time can be emotionally challenging – given that choosing a college is one of the biggest financial decisions many families will make – this busy, stressful fall phase of active work is almost done!

As many schools have an early action or early decision date of November 1 or November 15, your student may have already submitted many of their applications. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to ride that momentum and finish up with any pending applications soon.

Encourage your student to complete their remaining applications on their school list.

Even if a college has a rolling deadline, or an early 2024 deadline, it is best to apply as soon as possible.

While the expected notification dates of acceptance vary from school to school, it’s good to know the following: the earlier your student applies, the sooner admissions staff likely will read the application and send out notification. College financial aid staff typically review applications for financial aid after acceptance.

The FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid

 While the Department of Education has yet to release the opening date of the FAFSA application for the 2024-2025 academic year, it is still expected to open in December.

The fact that the FAFSA form is opening later for this year only, due to major changes in the form (it usually opens on October 1 for the following fall) is more reason to complete it as soon as it is released.

Schools will have a shorter timeline to review applications and prepare offer letters.

It is my recommendation that every student complete the FAFSA form.

Even if you think your student will not be eligible for need-based aid (free grants and scholarships), you and your student should complete the FAFSA form. Some schools will offer a free grant or scholarship even if your student doesn’t qualify for need-based funds, just because the form was completed.

There are also some schools that require completion for merit scholarships (awarded by admissions based on the student’s admissions application).

How to Get a Jump on Completing the FAFSA Form

Create your FSA ID

  • Create your FSA ID here: Create FSA ID
  • Get updates and FAFSA information here: Federal Student Aid
  • Both student and parent will need to create an ID
  • You can take these steps now and keep credentials in a safe place until the FAFSA opens

Gather required information to reference when completing the FAFSA, including:

  • 2022 Federal Tax Return – in most cases, you will be required to give consent to the IRS and use the (FTI) Federal Tax Information-Module. Eligibility will not be calculated without consent. This is consent for tax information, NOT to contribute to college costs.
  • 2022 W-2’s and 1099’s
  • Account Statements – Checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts
  • Child support received – if applicable
  • Social Security #’s – be sure to double check these- it is a common mistake to transpose numbers or use the wrong one

For more information on the new 2024-2025 FAFSA changes and Early Decision, see my October blog- College Application Marathon: Fall’s Final Sprint

Once your student finishes their applications, hopefully your whole family will be able to find time to relax and enjoy the holidays!

And, as a reminder, be sure to check your email regularly for notifications from the schools.

DC

 

College Application Marathon: Fall’s Final Sprint

As October arrives, your high school senior is likely deep into the college application process, and now the college application marathon turns into a final finishing sprint.

This time in your student’s life can seem pressure-packed and overwhelming.

Together you’re trying to find the perfect college fit that will allow them to pursue their educational and extracurricular goals in a way that can be supported by your family’s finances.

Keeping on top of the application process, including deadlines, may relieve some of that pressure. Below are some suggestions that you might find helpful.

Refine the List

Now is the time to refine your student’s school list. Take a realistic look at the options. In addition to that school at the top of your student’s wish list, do you have some options that are likely to be more affordable, and at least one or two where your student is “likely” to be accepted?

Know the Options

The college admissions “game” has gotten more complex and is defined by detailed applications, multiple essays, different application types and different deadlines for each school! Early Accept, Early Accept II, Early Decision, Early Action, and additional points such as “restricted” are possible options for applicants

Be sure to know the options and deadlines for each school on your student’s list and make an informed and timely decision on how your student will apply.

It is a good idea to consider the Early Action applications which are not binding, (when you do not have to commit to attending if you are accepted). Applying early will usually result in an earlier notification to the student. If you know the student will apply to the school, why not get the application in as soon as possible, and get notified early of the decision?

Be sure to work with your student on getting the applications done not only by the deadline, but a little ahead, so you all can be a little less stressed when completing them.

Words of Caution on Early Decision Applications

You should be well-informed about electing Early Decision because:

  • It is a binding agreement with the college or university. Most often, you have no idea if the student will receive any financial aid or a merit scholarship before you commit to attending the school if the student is admitted. It usually limits the student to other early applications as well.
  • Not every school keeps their Net Price Calculator (NPC) up to date and some do not include merit scholarships in the estimate, even if they do offer them. At the very least, you should complete the NPC on the school’s website to get an idea of eligibility.
  • You will need to be prepared to pay whatever the cost is to you. It’s possible that you won’t be offered aid and will have to pay full price.

Although many schools state a student’s eligibility does not depend on when they apply, most schools do not have unlimited funds. Getting applications done early for admissions and financial aid will give your student the best opportunity for maximizing their eligibility for scholarships and aid.

The College Essay

Hopefully your student has worked over the summer on their college essay.

Understand what your student’s best positioning is and be sure to have your student weave a good narrative into their essays that accompany the application.

Many schools have a holistic approach to the application review, and this is an area where your student can really shine. Admissions representatives love to hear stories that bring a student’s application to life.

Test Scores

Decide on whether to submit the SAT / ACT test scores. Many schools are still test optional. If you and your student do not feel the scores are indicative of their ability, consider not submitting if scores are not required and if your student is very strong in other areas such as GPA, involvement in groups and activity, and other accomplishments.

If you have questions specific to a school, do not be shy about calling the school and reaching out. They have an enrollment goal to achieve, and admissions folks are generally helpful in guiding you along the way to submitting your application.

Final Notes

Take it easy on yourself and your student during this time. Try to find ways to keep calm, take breaks, and remember: the ultimate goal is to get them off to college next year, and they will make it!

In my experience when working with families, most often the student ends up where they were meant to be in the end.

If you need some hourly college planning advice, you may contact Donna on our website.

While the FAFSA release date is still expected to be December, it has not yet been announced. You can register for an FSA ID and complete the FAFSA here when the application opens.

We will post updates on the FAFSA release date when they are available.

-DC

 

Ready, Set… Wait for the New FAFSA

Roughly 18 million college students apply for financial aid each year through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The U.S. Department of Education develops the FAFSA form and disburses aid to students at 5,600 colleges and career schools each year.

The FAFSA is also used by colleges and universities to determine eligibility for their own free grants and scholarships.

Due to the implementation of extensive changes based on the FAFSA Simplification Act, the Department of Education delayed the usual October 1 launch date to December this year for the 2024-2025 application. The exact date has not yet been released.

Changes to the form began over the last three years and some of the more impactful changes will occur on the 2024-2025 FAFSA form.

What this means for students who are applying now to college for admission for the fall of 2024 or who are current college students, is that their aid eligibility may be affected. Some changes are expected to help students, and some are expected to have a negative impact on eligibility.

It also means that schools which have historically released earlier financial aid offer letters to freshmen applicants, will likely be scrambling to review the FAFSA applications once the form opens and may have to delay their offer notifications to freshman.

Some of the FAFSA changes that may have a negative impact on student eligibility are:

  • The number of family members in college is no longer a factor in the need analysis. The “sibling discount”, which could make a student eligible for more aid, is going away. However, based on comments from administration officials from a sampling of schools that use the CSS Profile, many colleges likely will continue to give some form of sibling discount.
  • The net worth of a business is no longer limited to those with more than 100 full-time employees. Applicants must report the net worth of all businesses.

Some of the FAFSA changes that may have a positive impact on student eligibility or be a benefit to students are:

  • The FAFSA will have significantly fewer questions.
  • The FAFSA EFC (Expected Family Contribution) name has changed to FAFSA SAI (Student Aid Index) which helps avoid confusion as this number is for determining eligibility and is not associated with what a family or student “is expected” to pay.
  • Some untaxed income items have been eliminated such as: payments made to tax-deferred pension and retirement plans that are paid directly or withheld from earnings; money received by or paid for on behalf of the student; and veterans’ noneducational benefits.
  • For dependent students, education savings accounts will only be counted as a parent asset if the account is designated for the student. Previously, if a parent had education savings accounts for other children, the value of those were also required to be counted.
  • Students may now list up to twenty colleges on the form, rather than the previous ten.

One important outcome of the FAFSA change is unclear: how schools will adjust aid (or not) for current students. Students and families will have to wait and see how the new FAFSA, and their school’s policy changes, will affect their financial aid for their remaining college years.

One Final Note about the FAFSA Form: every student should complete the FAFSA form. Free money can be left behind if a student does not submit the form, especially in year one.

Some colleges require the form to be submitted to qualify for a merit scholarship, even though it is not need-based. Also, some colleges award additional grants in the form of free money, just for completing and submitting the FAFSA, regardless of eligibility.

You can register here for an FSA ID and use the same link to complete the FAFSA when the application opens.

Parents of students applying for admission for Fall of 2024 can use the Net Price Calculators on their schools’ websites to get an idea of eligibility before the FAFSA becomes available.

You can also receive a College Money Report (for three schools on your list) by visiting the Resources page on the Moore Financial Advisors website.

We will post updates on the FAFSA release date when they are available.

 

 

Federal Student Loan Repayments Resume

The US Department of Education’s COVID 19 relief for Federal Student Loans is ending soon and roughly 1 in 8 Americans will have to restart their loan payments as soon as October.

Interest resumes on September 1, 2023, and payments will be due starting in October 2023.

If you are a parent of a young adult who graduated during the past three years of the COVID 19 loan repayment pause, these students may have never been required to make a payment on their Federal Student Loans until now.

If you have a Federal Student or Parent Plus Loan, or if you are the parent of a recent college graduate, here are ways to prepare for the loan repayment start up:

This is a good time to check in with young adults and discuss their loans. Don’t assume they are aware of the repayment start and what to do.

Be sure to let them know that they must watch for communications from their servicer for a bill. You can be a resource to help them remain in good standing and on track to pay off their loans on time.

Anyone with outstanding Federal Student loans, which include Federal Direct Stafford Student Loans, Federal Direct Graduate Student Loans, Graduate Plus Loans, and Federal Parent Plus Loans, should prepare for repayment (unless you kept up payments during the pause).

Below are steps you should take in August and September.

By logging in to your FSA (Federal Student Aid) dashboard with your FSA ID and password, you will have access to the information you need.

Here are some specifics:

  • Log on to Federal Student Aid, and update your contact information, including mailing address, email, phone; you can also update your information with you loan servicer using this link
  • Confirm the status of your loans, total amount you owe, and the current servicer (government agency handling your repayment)
  • If you are repaying Student Loans for the first time, here is a step-by-step plan with links to be sure you are set up for your first payment: FSA: Repaying Student Loans for the First Time

Watch for communications regarding your loan: your bill, payment amount, and due date should arrive at least 21 days before your due date.

A smart way to save on interest is if you set up auto-pay so you will save 0.25% on your interest rate.

If you were on an income-based repayment plan, or want to explore more affordable plans information is here: FSA Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Important Note: If you choose an income-driven repayment plan, this will extend your repayment time, and interest and total amount to be repaid.

More information on the repayment start can be found at: Federal Student Aid-Managing Loan Repayment

Here you can find more information on:

 If you have questions about the Federal Student Loan repayment restart, or would like to discuss your situation with regard to paying for college, Donna is available to help.

 

 

 

Preparing to Pay the First Tuition Bill

If you are a parent of a young adult who will soon head off to college for the first time, you have likely had an emotional and hectic year. Making a commitment to a school for your student’s education is a big step.

Congratulations on navigating a complex process and reaching one of life’s major milestones!

One of the more important communications from your student’s school, arriving soon, will be the first semester bill for tuition, and room and board. Any merit scholarships or aid awarded to your student should show as a pending credit on the bill.

Schools generally send two bills per year, and payment due dates are usually around the beginning of August for fall semester and December for spring semester.

Early summer is an appropriate time to review your college financial plan, and a good place to start is by considering all available resources, including:

  • 529 plan balances and other savings
  • Gifts from relatives
  • Private scholarships awarded to your student
  • Flexibility in your budget for making monthly cash payments
  • Loans, including Federal student loans and private loans

If loans will be part of your family’s financing picture, it’s wise to consider using the Federal Direct Stafford Loan – all students are eligible.

Loans maximums are set by the U.S. Department of Education, and they range from $5,500 for the freshman year, to $7,500 for the senior year.

The federal student loan benefits include:

  • fixed interest rate (and likely lower than a private loan)
  • no credit and no co-signer needed
  • multiple repayment and forbearance options during repayment
  • six-month grace period after graduation (or continued deferment if the student is in a qualifying, half-time graduate program)
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs

Of course, it is a personal and family decision whether or not your student will borrow to help pay for college.

For access to Federal loans, you and your student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Even if you don’t want your student to have debt after graduation, Federal student loans are still worth considering, because:

  1. taking the federal loan will help your student establish a payment history and a credit score
  2. you’ll have the option to pay off the loan at graduation, or sooner
  3. if you have the need to appeal for financial aid while your student is an undergraduate (due to a job loss or other unfortunate circumstance), the college’s financial aid officers are likely to look more favorably on your situation if your student has previously accepted the ‘self-help’ loan

For more information on Federal student loans, yearly loan limits, interest and payment calculators, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, check out: