Paying for College Without Going Broke, 2017 Edition - Princeton Review, Kalman Chany (2016)
Part III. Filling Out the Standardized Forms
Filling Out the Forms
Any prospective U.S. college student who wants to be considered for financial aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you are applying to private colleges (as well as a few state schools) you will probably also have to complete the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Application.
After you finish completing your form or forms, you send the data to the need analysis company, which then sends out reports to you and the colleges you designate. Based on the FAFSA data, you will receive a report called the Student Aid Report or SAR. If you also file the PROFILE form, you will receive an Acknowledgment/Data Confirmation Report from the College Board which lists the schools to which your PROFILE was sent and summarizes the data submitted. In this part of the book, we will give you line-by-line instructions for filling out the 2017-2018 version of the FAFSA as well as tips for the core questions of the 2017-2018 PROFILE form.
First Step: Decide Which Form(s) to Fill Out
As your child narrows down his choice of colleges, you should find out which financial aid forms are required by each of the schools. Don’t rely on the popular college guides sold in stores for this information. These books sometimes get their facts wrong, and can contain incorrect or outdated information. You also shouldn’t rely on information you receive over the telephone from the schools themselves. We are amazed at how often schools have given us misleading or wrong information over the telephone. If you must rely on information given over the telephone, get the name and title of the person you’re talking to. In the financial aid process, Murphy’s Law is in full effect, and when things do go wrong, remember it will always be your fault.
The best filing requirement and deadline information comes from the school’s own financial aid office website. When applying to several schools you should keep in mind that you are only allowed to file one FAFSA form per student per year. You don’t have to fill out a separate FAFSA for each college being considered. The form will have a space where you can list the schools to which you are applying.
Sometimes the Schools Have Their Own Aid Applications as Well
To make things even more confusing, some of the schools have supplemental financial aid forms for you to fill out in addition to the forms we’ve just mentioned. For example, any undergraduate freshman applying for financial aid at the University of Pennsylvania must complete the Penn Financial Aid Supplement in addition to the FAFSA and the PROFILE form. Carefully check through the admissions applications of the schools to which your child is applying to see if there are any supplemental aid forms that you need to complete. Supplemental forms are very important and must be sent directly to the individual colleges. For now, we are going to talk only about the FAFSA and the PROFILE form.
Filling Out the Right Form
Make sure you are using the most up-to-date version of the form. Don’t laugh. We’ve seen parents fill out last year’s form. This can happen because the processing of the next academic year’s FAFSA form overlaps for nine months with the processing of the current academic year’s FAFSA form. If you fill out the wrong form during those nine months, the need analysis company will assume you are applying for the year already underway and you will be up the proverbial creek. The FAFSA form you want to file needs to correspond to the academic year for which you want to receive aid.
Take Your Pick: Three Ways to File the FAFSA
Before you start in on the forms, you have an important choice to make as to what method you’ll use to file the FAFSA. The Department of Education offers three options:
A) The FAFSA on the Web (also known as the FOTW)
B) The paper FAFSA—The paper FAFSA form changes color from year to year. The 2017-2018 paper version is primarily green with some purple. (The 2016-2017 FAFSA was orange and purple.)
C) The Downloadable PDF FAFSA—Instead of using the regular green and purple paper version of the 2017-2018 FAFSA, you can also download, complete, print, and submit a PDF version.
While this choice will not affect how the processor calculates your EFC under the federal formula, there are a number of advantages to filing the FOTW form online:
✵ You can list up to 10 schools to receive your data (compared to only 4 with the paper or PDF version of the form)
✵ You don’t need to worry if the post office lost your form or delivered it late.
✵ The online FAFSA form has an interactive data retrieval tool that takes you to an IRS website that allows you to transfer some information from your tax return (provided you’ve already filed for that year) directly onto the FAFSA. (We’ll explain this in more detail later in the book.)
✵ Your FAFSA data will be processed faster
✵ The skip logic built into the online form helps you to avoid providing inconsistent data.
✵ You don’t have to worry that some responses on the paper or PDF FAFSA will be incorrectly inputted by the FAFSA processor.
Details on how to complete the FAFSA on the Web, or how to download the PDF version, are available on the Department of Education’s FAFSA web page (www.fafsa.ed.gov). You can obtain a copy of the paper FAFSA form by calling 1 800 4-FED-AID (1 800 433-3243). Be sure to specify which year’s form you need. The 2017-2018 paper form may not be available until October 1, 2016 or even a tad later.
If you’re already in college during the 2016-2017 school year and meet certain requirements, you may also be able to apply for aid for the 2017-2018 academic year using a partially pre-filled FAFSA, which will only be available online. Regardless of the method you use, each student can only file one version of the 2017-2018 FAFSA.
Note: While the majority of our readers will be filing the 2017-2018 FAFSA online, we realize that some of our readers will be using the green and purple paper version or the PDF version. Be aware that FOTW utilizes “skip logic”- which means certain questions may not be asked based on your answers to previous questions. For example, if the student says he won’t file a tax return, further questions about his tax return will be omitted. Because of this “skip logic”, the questions on the online FOTW are not asked in the same (numerical) order as they are on the paper or PDF version. However in the interest of clarity, and since some of our readers will be using the paper or PDF version, our line-by-line tips for completing the FAFSA questions that follow will be done in numerical order. Regardless of the version you file, the same questions will have the same question numbers. On the online version, the question number will appear in the “Help and Hints” area on the top or side of your monitor. By placing the cursor into the response area, the question number will appear for the corresponding question. (Key point: for some questions, you may need to answer the question to see the appropriate “Help and Hints” text and then change or delete your response due to a quirk with the online FAFSA application.)
The strategies in this chapter for answering each question on the FAFSA to the best advantage will apply for any version of the 2017-2018 FAFSA that you choose to file. A number of the tips in this chapter relating to the completion and filing of the FAFSA may apply only to the regular printed version or PDF version. If you prefer to file the FOTW, you should be sure to read our line-by-line instructions below, since the online “Help and Hints” text from the FOTW are not as complete as the instructions on the paper and PDF versions which follow the letter of the law and go through a formal comment period and review process by the feds. After the FAFSA is processed, the Student Aid Report (SAR) that is generated will list your data in the same numerical order, regardless of the method you chose to fill out the form.
Second Step: Know Your Deadlines
Missing a financial aid deadline is worse than missing a mortgage payment. Your bank will probably give you another chance; the colleges probably will not. Schools process their financial aid candidates in batches. At most schools, student aid applications are collected in a pile up until the “priority filing deadline” (set by the school) and then assessed in one batch. If you send in your application three weeks early, you will not necessarily be better off than someone who just makes the deadline. However, if your application arrives a day late, it could sit unopened in a small pile of late applications until the entire first batch has been given aid. Then, if there is anything left in their coffers, the FAOs look at the second batch on a rolling basis.
Click here to download a PDF of the following form.
There are so many different deadlines to remember during the process of applying for college admission and financial aid that the only way to keep everything straight is to write it all down in one place. We suggest that you use the chart that appears on the preceding page.
You should realize that the school’s deadline for the FAFSA and (if required by the school) the PROFILE may be different for a particular school. However because the filing periods for both forms now begin on October 1 (starting with the 2017-2018 forms) and because the consistency of your responses to identical questions on both forms is important for those students who must also file the PROFILE, it is generally a good idea to submit both the FAFSA and PROFILE at the same time. Keep in mind that while for the information relating to the prior-prior year income will involve a time period that has long since ended, the asset information and other demographic details of your situation will be as of the date you submit the form.
Since the majority of students apply only to schools that require the FAFSA but do not also require the PROFILE form, the line-by-line strategies for completing both forms that follow will start with the tips for the FAFSA (so that those readers who do not need to complete the PROFILE can skip the PROFILE sections). However, for those students who must complete the PROFILE: it would be best if possible to complete the PROFILE before the FAFSA (as long as you do not risk missing any FAFSA deadline for any other non-PROFILE schools or state aid programs that may require earlier submission than your earliest PROFILE school’s aid deadlines). This is because the FAFSA is child’s play compared to the PROFILE—which requires significantly more detailed information than the federal form. Or as one senior administrator at the College Board once said in using an analogy to a student’s academic record to compare the two forms: “FAFSA is to grade point average, as PROFILE is to an academic transcript”. To help insure that your responses to similar questions on the two forms are consistent: in the tips for completing the PROFILE that follow, we provide guidelines to assist you in identifying and matching up your responses to those similar questions on both forms.
Note: In addition to the schools’ deadlines, some state aid programs or private scholarship programs may have earlier deadlines than the priority deadlines set by the particular schools for the FAFSA, PROFILE and/or their own aid form. And some state agencies awards funds on a first-come, first-serve basis until their coffers are empty. (See this page and this page.)
There Are Three Types of Financial Aid Deadlines
1.The school, private scholarship program, or state agency says your application must be mailed (and postmarked) by a particular date.
If filing a paper version: Send the form by certified mail, return receipt requested, and make sure the postal worker shows you the postmark on the envelope before you leave the post office.
2.Your application must be received and “date stamped” by the need analysis company by a particular date.
In this case, you must factor in delivery time if mailing a paper form. Again, send the application by certified mail, return receipt requested or via regular Priority Mail at the post office (provided you can track the delivery). If you are mailing the standardized form within two weeks of this type of deadline, use the U.S. Postal Service’s “Express Priority” service (which assigns a tracking number). You cannot use Federal Express or any of the other private carriers because standardized forms must be sent to a post office box. Since the FAFSA processor is located in a somewhat remote location, it may take two business days for your form to be delivered via Express Mail.
3.Your standardized application must be processed and the results made available to the school, private scholarship program, or state agency by a certain date.
To be on the safe side allow four weeks processing time. If the deadline is March 1, for example, then you should mail the form (via some method that provides tracking) to the need analysis company by February 1.
If you are filing a form online, then the first two types of deadlines will be the same; namely the date you must transmit the completed form to the processor (since it will be considered received on the date you transmit it). Last minute filers should be aware that the processors may be located in an earlier time zone which could affect the official receipt/transmission “date” for your form. So for example, a filer in Oregon would have to file a form online by 9 p.m. Pacific Time if the data is sent to a processor that uses Eastern Time for date-stamping the form. If the form were filed at say 9:04 p.m. Pacific Time it would be considered as received the next day. If your form must be processed by a certain date, you should allow 2 to 3 weeks processing time.
Tip #23: Determine early on which forms you must file, and when they are due.
So When is the Optimal Time to Submit the Aid Forms?
One of the most difficult things about financial aid is that the answers to most questions are: “It depends on your situation and other factors”. While conventional wisdom holds that one should always file “as soon as possible after a certain date”, the reality is that you should file at the appropriate time when you will demonstrate the greatest need for aid. So….
1) If you are applying for aid at one of the few schools (Florida State is one such school that comes to mind) that still awards financial aid on a first come- first served (FCFS) basis instead of setting a priority filing date, then you should file the 2017-2018 aid forms as soon as possible after October 1, 2016. (Be aware that the overwhelming majority of colleges no longer award funds this way, as they learned a long time ago it is better for their enrollment goals to leverage their aid by rationing their funds instead. If a school’s aid requirements advise you to complete the forms “as soon as possible after X date but before Y date, then Y is the priority filing deadline and they do not award funds first come-first served.)
2) If you reside in one of the states that awards state aid on an FCFS basis until funds run out, then you also want to file the FAFSA and other required forms ASAP after October 1, 2016. Based on state aid information listed on this page of the 2017-2018 draft version of the FAFSA, the applicable states are: Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. The other 40 states and the District of Columbia appear to not have such policies (providing a fixed cut-off deadline to apply), though it is best to contact your state agency for full details. (See this page for a contact info.)
3) If none of the colleges or your state agency award funds on an FCFS basis, the earliest school’s deadline by which a standardized need analysis form must will be sent to or received by the need analysis company becomes your overall deadline. In this case, you should file the form after October 1 but before your earliest deadline, during the time period when your family contribution is likely to be the lowest number. Let’s say your earliest deadline is January 31, 2017 for the 2017-2018 year, but you will be getting a large bonus check from your employer right after New Year’s Day for the prior year. You would be better off filing the form before that the bonus money inflates your assets. Do you make estimated tax payments? You would be better off making that next payment and have the payment clear your account before you file so that your reportable assets are lower at the time you file.
And even though the FAFSA filing period will begin three months earlier, from what we have heard so far from our contacts in the financial aid trenches it does not appear that many schools will be moving up their admission or aid deadlines - at least for applications involving the 2017-2018 school year. So if you don’t fit into category 1 or 2 above, the aid forms will likely not be due until sometime in early 2017 unless the student is applying for admission as an “early decision” or “early action” candidate.
Once the need analysis company has your numbers, it sends them to all the schools you designated on that form. If the student subsequently decides to apply to some additional school(s) after you filed the standardized form(s), you will need to remember to send the data to the additional school(s). (We’ll advise how to do this later.)
Regardless of your situation, keep in mind that the instructions for the FAFSA say that you have until late June 30, 2018 (that is, at end of the academic year for which you want aid) to fill out the FAFSA. What they mean is that the need analysis company is willing to accept and process the form until this date, but by then there will be virtually no money left at almost any college in the land.
The Standardized Form Deadlines May Be Different from the Individual Aid Form Deadlines
If you are applying to a school that asks you to fill out their own separate supplemental financial aid form in addition to a standardized form, make sure you know the deadlines for each form. Unfortunately, these deadlines are usually different. Even if they are the same, the standardized form may have a postmark deadline while the college form has a receipt deadline, or vice versa. The only way to keep all this straight is to read each college’s bulletin carefully and then use a deadline chart like the one we provide on this page.
Supplemental Forms at the Highly Selective Colleges
Some Ivy League schools, the “little Ivies,” and many other selective schools have rather extensive financial aid forms of their own. The quantity of paperwork may seem daunting at first, but when you start answering the questions you will begin to notice that many of the questions on the forms are identical—designed to get more detailed responses to the questions already asked on the FAFSA and/or the PROFILE form and to discover inconsistencies in your responses. Individual schools may also ask a few questions that may strike you as bizarre. This is less Big Brotherish than it sounds. The FAOs are just trying to find recipients for restricted awards donated by alumni that the aid office would prefer to award before they tap their unrestricted funds.
Third Step: If At Least One School Requires The PROFILE Form, Register With The College Board
Many private colleges and a handful of state schools will require completion of the CSS/ Financial Aid PROFILE form in addition to the FAFSA if one wishes to be considered for institutional aid as well as federal aid. While original paper FAFSA forms are available by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID, the PROFILE form can only be obtained by first registering with the College Board. Registration and completion of the PROFILE can only be done online. If you do not yet have a free account at the College Board’s website (www.collegeboard.com), you will first need to become a member of the site and then register for the actual PROFILE form.
There is a $9 PROFILE registration fee as well as a $16 processing fee per school. Since you will have to pay this fee using a credit card or an electronic debit when you submit your completed PROFILE data, you should carefully review each college’s financial aid requirements in order to determine which ones need the PROFILE information. Certain users may be eligible for a fee waiver covering the registration fee as well as the processing fee for up to eight colleges/programs.
You will be able to complete your PROFILE application immediately after you have completed the PROFILE registration process. The following items will then be available to you online:
1.Some general guidelines for completing the PROFILE form as well as a customized pre-application worksheet listing the questions you’ll be asked to complete online. You can download and print out this worksheet.
2.The core questions of the PROFILE form involving student data, student finances, and (if required) parental household and financial information as well as some other items. These core questions will be generated for you based in part on the responses you provided during the PROFILE registration process. These questions involve the basic data requested by all the schools that require the PROFILE form. Starting on this page, we will provide you with line-by-line tips for completing these core questions. Veterans of the PROFILE process should be aware that they will be some changes beginning with the 2017-2018 version, given the switch to the use of the prior-prior year.
3.The institutional-specific questions if they are required by one or more of the schools or programs involved. In addition to the core questions, the College Board has a pool of about 200 other optional questions and has downloaded these into their computer system. Based upon the college or program codes that you provided when you registered for the PROFILE, the College Board will generate the appropriate supplemental questions required by those schools. These questions, if any, will appear at the end of the PROFILE form.
4.Optional supplements. Based upon certain responses you provided when you registered for the PROFILE, it may be necessary for some aid applicants to submit one or two supplemental forms: the Noncustodial Parent’s Statement and/or the Business/Farm Supplement. (We discuss these supplements on this page-this page, and this page in Chapter Nine.) The individual colleges will determine if these forms are required, not the College Board. These supplements should be completed and then sent directly only to those aid offices that require the particular form. In lieu of the paper noncustodial parent form (which is sent to directly to the aid office of the college (signed copies are acceptable if more than one school requires it), some schools may require that the noncustodial parent complete the Noncustodial PROFILE (NCP) online which has a fixed processing fee of $25 regardless of the number of schools involved. The Business Supplement will still only be available in a free, paper format and will normally be sent directly to those schools that require it or the College Board’s IDOC service, which we’ll discuss on this page. (You will be able to download copies of these supplements and print them out at some point after you register for the PROFILE.)
Not Too Early
While counseling thousands of individual clients over the past 25 years, we’ve noticed that many families fit into two distinct categories: those who like to do things right away and those who like to wait until the last minute. When handling the PROFILE Registration process, either course of action could get you into trouble.
While you can register for, complete, and submit the 2017-2018 PROFILE anytime after October 1, 2016, keep in mind that you will be paying a $16 processing fee for any school or program that you designate to receive your PROFILE information. So it would make sense to wait a while to submit your completed PROFILE to the processor until the student has a better idea of their list of schools. (You might also want to wait until you make any appropriate changes to your financials that could lower your EFC!) While you can change the list of schools/programs that you have provided when you registered, you will be charged for any school that you have selected to receive your PROFILE data at the time you submit your completed application to the processor. So unless the college requests the completion of the PROFILE form in the early fall for an Early Decision or Early Action application (see this page), it is a good idea to wait to register until a few weeks before your earliest PROFILE deadline. Otherwise, if you apply too soon you may be paying a fee for schools to which the child never decides to apply. Note: once you submit your PROFILE for processing, you can then add additional schools (at $16 per school) and you will be asked any additional supplemental questions that are required by the added school(s) but have not been previously asked. You will also have the opportunity to update any of the data previously submitted, though such revisions will only be sent to the additional schools you are adding.
Not Too Late
While you can now set up a free account on the College Board’s website, register for the PROFILE, and then complete and submit the PROFILE in one session online, it is still not a good idea to wait until right before your earliest school’s PROFILE deadline to do so. During peak processing periods, the College Board website may run slowly or be difficult to access. If additional supplements are required, you will also need some time to complete them and work out the logistics of getting the data to the appropriate schools by their deadlines.
Completing The PROFILE Registration Process
Most of the registration questions are rather self-explanatory. However, we caution you to carefully read and follow the instructions that appear on the screen. There are also a few additional tips to keep in mind:
✵Be extremely careful when selecting the various listings for the colleges and programs and/or the different listings for various colleges or schools within the same university. Some schools have different code numbers for undergraduate applicants versus those applying to graduate school. In addition, some questions pertain to the student and some to the student’s parent(s).
✵For registration questions pertaining to student and/or parental income tax filing status as well as the receipt of certain need-based federal benefit programs, make sure your responses will be consistent with your FAFSA responses.
Fourth Step: Decide Whether You Can Get Your Taxes Done in Time to Fill Out the FAFSA and/or the PROFILE Form
Prior to the 2017-2018 FAFSA and PROFILE, most families had to estimate their base year income on the forms because they needed to file the aid forms before they could complete their tax returns for the “prior-year”.
However, with the switch to the use of prior-prior year (PPY) data on the standardized aid forms, most individuals who were required to file a tax return for the PPY will have done so before they need to file the forms. However, it would still be much better if you were not reading this chapter on the day of the deadline, because this is going to take more time than you think—if you want to maximize your aid. A ten-year-old child can fill out the form, but HOW you fill it out will determine your aid package. As you will soon find out, the questions involving PPY income will still only encompass a fraction of the data required to submit the forms. As such, you should begin gathering together all this information weeks before you plan to submit the aid forms.
Here are the records you will need:
1.Completed 2015 federal tax return (including all schedules), if filed. (If 2015 return not filed, see below)
2.2015 W-2 forms
3.Records of 2015 untaxed income (social security payments received, welfare payments, tax-exempt interest income, etc.)
6.Mortgage statements (for all properties other than the primary residence)
7.Student’s social security number and driver’s license (if available)
8.If you are an owner of a business, the business’s financial statements or corporate tax return
9.Other investment statements and records (including any farm you own, but don’t live on and operate)
10.Records of 2015 child support paid to or received by former spouse And if you will be filing the PROFILE in addition to the FAFSA, you will also need:
11.Records of 2015 medical and dental expenses (must have been actually paid or charged on your credit card during 2015)
12.Records of any post-secondary tuition paid or that will be paid during the 2016-2017 school year
13.Records of any educational loan payments made (or to be made in 2016)
14.Mortgage statement(s) for your primary residence
15.The amount of any financial aid awarded for the 2016-2017 school year (for any household member)
If you have NOT completed your 2015 tax return by the time you need to complete the aid forms:
Obviously, it will be easier to complete the 2017-2018 standardized aid form if you first complete your 2015 tax returns and then file the aid forms. However, if you are applying for aid at the relatively rare school that actually awards aid funds on a first-come, first-served basis and/or you are a resident of a state that awards state aid funds on a rolling basis until such funds are depleted, then you should not delay filing the aid forms. You should simply use your best estimates for your PPY information and submit the aid forms. (In this case, it would be helpful to have a copy of your 2014 return as well as a blank copy of the 2015 tax return as the line items on the tax returns can change from year to year.) However, you will want to file your tax return(s) as soon as possible (if required to do so), and then revised your estimated information reported on the aid forms as soon as you are able to do so.
If you are not required to file a U.S. tax return: you should not feel that it is necessary to do so in order to apply for aid. The financial aid application process and forms are designed to also accommodate those who do not file a U.S. tax return (or those who are only required to file a foreign tax return).
A Word About Confidentiality
The information you supply will go directly to the financial aid office and will stay there. You can trust them to keep information confidential. No one else at the school will see your personal data. And no one else at the school—not professors, students, or administrators—will know who is getting financial aid and who isn’t.
Some parents are reluctant to share intimate details with a stranger. No matter how spectacular the details of your private life are, the FAOs have seen worse. And frankly, the FAOs are too busy coping with the needs of thousands of students to have time to make value judgments.
Currently the only way the IRS can see a copy of your need analysis form is by getting a subpoena, although the laws could change soon. However, the Secretary of Education now has the authority to verify the information on the FAFSA with the IRS.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you’re completing a paper form: before you even touch the form you are using, make a photocopy of it. You will use the copy to work on. Once you are satisfied with all of your entries, you can transfer the information carefully onto the real form. Only the original green and purple FAFSA form or the PDF version of the FAFSA will be accepted by the FAFSA processor. When you’ve finished, make a photocopy of the completed form and put it in a safe place.
If you’re filing a form online: you should fill out a worksheet copy of the form before you start inputting your responses online. For the FAFSA you could either print out the worksheet version of the form that is provided online or you could simply work on a paper version of the form. For the PROFILE you can print out the worksheet copy provided by the processor.
If you are in the habit of just dumping all of your financial records at your accountant’s office, change your habits for the next four years. Photocopy every conceivably relevant document, and then dump them at your accountant’s office.
Read ALL the Instructions
You should read all the instructions on the form before you begin work. In many cases, these instructions will be sketchy or misleading. Hopefully this book will clarify what the forms do not.
If you’re completing a paper version of a form: Make sure you use the proper writing implement. Also, be sure you complete the response areas the proper way. If they want a , don’t give them a instead. Writing in the margins is forbidden. You are also not allowed to give a range of numbers for a particular item. For example, you cannot write down $700-$800. It must be $750.
And regardless of the way you file a form: Use whole dollar amounts only. Do not include cents or decimals. When writing down the numeric equivalent of a single-digit date, the MMDDYYYY format is usually requested. Thus, January 5, 1995 would look like this: 01 05 1995.
Which Parent(s) Must Report Information on the FAFSA and PROFILE
Beginning with the 2014-2015 FAFSA, new guidelines for dependent students were established involving which of the student’s parents’ information will be required to be reported on the FAFSA. The PROFILE form mirrors these guidelines as well. Here is the gist of them:
✵ If the biological and/or adoptive parents of the student are living together, then information from both parents is required to be reported on the FAFSA and PROFILE, regardless of their marital status and regardless of their genders.
✵ If the biological and/or adoptive parents of the student are living apart (that is, they are divorced, separated or were never married): then only the parent with whom the student spent the most time in the 12-month period prior to completing the FAFSA should report parental information on the FAFSA and PROFILE. That parent will be known in financial aid circles as the “custodial parent”. If that amount of time is exactly equal, then the parent who provided the greater amount of support during the past 12 months (or if no support, the greater support during the last year when support was provided) will be the criteria used. So under the current rules, it does not matter which parent claims the student on their taxes, which parent was awarded custody and/or which parent is legally responsible to pay for college.
✵ If a divorced or widowed parent is remarried (or the student’s parents were never married, but now the biological or adoptive parent is married to someone other than the student’s other parent), then the information of the custodial parent and custodial stepparent is required to be reported.
✵ If one of the student’s biological or adopted parents is deceased and the surviving parent is not married, then only the surviving parent’s information is reported.
Be aware that this determination is made based on the situation on the date the aid form is completed, not the situation during the prior-prior year. Given all the fine print, it makes sense to carefully review the applicable parts of the FAFSA and PROFILE instructions when completing the form.
Finally, don’t skip any question unless the instructions specifically tell you that you can. If you do not own a business, for example, put down “0” for any values related to a business. If you leave certain items blank on the paper version or PDF version of the FAFSA, the processor will just send the paper form back to you to correct. You can’t afford to lose the time that takes.
Getting Started If You Are Filling Out the Online FAFSA (FOTW)
To find the FAFSA online, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and click on the “Start a New FAFSA” tab. If the student has an FSA ID, you’ll be invited to enter it. If you don’t, you can start by entering the student information instead—but it actually makes sense to get an FSA ID before you start filling out the FAFSA.
The FSA ID came into being in May 2015—and has been causing mass confusion ever since among parents, students, guidance counselors, and even financial aid officers. The FSA ID has several important functions: first, it can serve as a signature when you submit your FAFSA data. Second, it permits you to access your processed FAFSA data at a later date, and if necessary revise or correct it. Third, it permits you to apply for federal education loans online. Fourth, it allows you to access your federal education loan history via the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). And fifth, it allows you to complete the Agreement to Serve (ATS) for the federal TEACH grant program.
What it does NOT do, is serve as a “password” for your FOTW application prior to submission. When you start filling out the FAFSA form, one of the first things you’ll be asked to do is create a 4 to 8 character, case-sensitive “Save Key”. If you don’t create and submit the FAFSA in one session (and who does?), you’ll need this “Save Key” to go back online and access your previously-saved FOTW data. (Forgot your Save Key? You can enter the zip code that was listed as part of the student’s address on your saved FAFSA, and you’ll be able to create a new Save Key.)
To get an FSA ID, go to www.fsaid.ed.gov. On this site, you’ll be asked to create a user name/password combination. Because the FAFSA of a dependent student must be signed by both the student and one parent/step-parent whose information is reported on the FAFSA, both the student and the parent/step-parent must create their own FSA ID user name and password combination. (The passwords can be the same for multiple individuals, but each user name created must be unique.) The user name doesn’t have to be your own name—if fact, it is probably not a good idea to do that. The 6 to 30 character user name can be any combination of numbers and/or (non-case sensitive) letters so long as no one has already taken that exact same user name for their FSA ID. For the 8 to 30 character case-sensitive password, one must use a minimum of three of the following four items in one’s password: an uppercase letter, a lowercase letter, a number, a special character (for example: * or #). When creating an FSA ID, the first requested item is an email address—but we strongly urge that you NOT supply any email address (it is not required), as it increases the possibility that hackers could use your email address in an attempt to phish and access your private information.
You’ll be asked some personal identification information, including your social security number, and five challenge questions (along the lines of “What was the name of your first pet?”) Unlike most websites, if you cannot supply the correct user name and password when asked, and then can’t answer the challenge questions correctly, you’ll have to create a new FSA ID from scratch.
If you have a valid Department of Education 4-digit PIN number (created under the older, but now obsolete, identification system), eventually you will see a place on the online FSA ID application where you can input that PIN number—which will then pre-populate some of the other required information. (Tip: for the reasons mentioned about, if an email address pre-populates we recommend that you delete it.)
After you provide all the required data, you’ll hit the Submit tab. Unless you supply your valid PIN number when you create your FSA ID, it will take up to 3 business days for your submitted information to be verified with various government agencies. Once verified, the FSA ID you created can be used to access all the U.S. Dept. of Education websites that you are likely to need in the course of obtaining federal aid. However if your FSA ID information has not yet been verified, a recently-created FSA ID can still be used immediately after it is created to electronically sign a new FOTW. Be aware that no ID number will be generated for the FSA ID; the unique user name and case-sensitive password combination created is the actual FSA ID!
Moving Right Along
You will find a draft version of the 2017-2018 FAFSA on this page-this page. We don’t anticipate any major changes in the ordering of the questions on the final paper version of the FAFSA. We will inform you of any significant changes to the forms or rules regarding financial aid on our website (www.princetonreview.com/financialaidupdate). Finally, any reference to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) in this part of the book does not include Education IRAs (which are not retirement accounts and are now more commonly called Coverdell Education Savings Accounts).
FILLING OUT THE 2017-2018 FAFSA
1-3. Your name. By this, they mean the student’s name. On need analysis forms, “you” always refers to the student. This name must agree exactly (down to the middle initial) with the name listed on the student’s social security card. It should also agree with the name of the student on the admissions application. If the first name is listed as Giovanni on the social security card, don’t write down John on the need analysis form.
If you have two children applying for aid, you must fill out two separate forms, even though the information will be largely identical. Do this even if the children are planning to attend the same college.
4-7. Address. Do not use the student’s address at boarding school or any other temporary address. Much of the mail you will receive from the colleges will be time sensitive. It’s important that you get it quickly. When filling out question 6—your home state—be sure to use the proper abbreviation.
8.Your social security number. By this, they mean the student’s social security number. These days, all students are required to have one. If your child does not have one, get one immediately; your form will be returned unprocessed if you do not complete this item. If you can’t get a number in time for the deadlines, call the need analysis company. If your child does have one, be careful copying the social security number onto the form and make sure it agrees with the number on the admissions application. At some schools students are still called up on the computer by social security number. The Department of Education will now check this number against the social security database. If the number doesn’t match the name, there will be no aid until the problem is corrected and it does match.
9.Your date of birth. Again, this is the student’s date of birth. For a student who was born March 5, 1999, the correct answer should be “03 05 1999” not “3 5 1999.”
10.Your permanent home phone. Remember to include the area code.
11-12. Your driver’s license number and state. This question is presumably here so that there is some means of tracking the student down later for student loan payments. When you copy down the license number itself, do not include dashes or spaces even if you see them on your license. If the student has no license, leave these two questions blank. These questions are optional on the online FOTW.
13.Your e-mail address. If you provide an e-mail address, you will only be able to view your information at a later date via the internet. If you wish to get a paper version of your SAR (as well as being able to access it online), you should leave this question blank.
14-15. Are you a U.S. citizen? To get federal aid the student must be either a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen (in most cases, the holder of a green card, although there are some exceptions. Consult the instructions for the FAFSA). If the student will have a green card by the time she starts school, but doesn’t have one on the day you fill out the form, you should contact the financial aid offices of the schools she is interested in for further instructions on how to proceed.
If the student is not a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen (or is a U.S. citizen/eligible noncitizen living overseas), you may also have to complete special “international student” aid forms. Ask the FAOs for details at the schools to which you are applying.
16-17. As of today, what is your marital status? This refers to the student’s marital status, not the parents’. If the student is married, separated, widowed, or divorced, answer question 17 as well; otherwise, leave it blank. Note: If you indicate that the student is “married / remarried”, then all required student income and asset questions for the FAFSA (as well as the PROFILE, if required) must include information regarding the student’s spouse as well.
18.Your state of legal residence. This can be quite important if you are applying to state schools. Be sure to use the proper abbreviation.
19-20. Date you began living in your state of legal residence. This is a double check to see if you really meet the residency requirements of the state you put down in question 18. If you answer “no” for question 19, then you must also answer question 20. For a student who became a legal resident in March, 2016, your answer should be, “03 2016”, not “3 2016.”
21-22. Are you male or female? Do you give Selective Service permission to register you? To receive federal aid, males 18 years old and older are required to register. If the student is male, then you may need to answer question 22 as well.
You can answer “Register me” for question 22 only if the student is already 18 (but not yet 26) and has not yet registered. Since few students are just turning 18 when the FAFSA is completed, it is probably best to put a reminder in your calendar for your son to go to the post office and register the week he turns 18. (Since there is no draft at present, this only involves filling out a form.)
A note for potential conscientious objectors: by registering for the Selective Service, you are not expressing a willingness to serve. The first step in the process of achieving conscientious objector status is to register.
23.Drug conviction information. This is a very important question. If the student has never been convicted of any illegal drug offense, while receiving federal student aid, be sure that you enter “No” for the response. If you file the online version, this question will only be asked if the student has previously received federal student aid.
24-25. Parents’ education. These questions do not affect federal aid. They may affect state aid or institutional aid in some cases. These questions relate to the natural parents of the student—not the stepparents. These questions refer to the highest level completed, not the highest grade. Thus, if the student’s father attended only one year of college, use the response for “High school,” in question 24.
26.High school diploma/GED/homeschooling/other information. This question refers to the student’s educational status before the first day of college. For most students, the answer will be “High school diploma”.
27.Your high school information. Follow the instructions and answer accordingly. If you are filing the online FOTW, the name of the school you input will be matched with a database. If you encounter trouble, ask your high school counselor for the exact way to enter the name.
28.Will you have your first bachelor’s degree before you begin the 2017-2018 school year? For most undergraduate students, of course, the answer will be no.
29.Your grade level during the 2017-2018 school year? If your child will be enrolling for the first time as a freshman, use the appropriate response for “never attended college & 1st year undergraduate” even if he took college courses while he was in high school. This question is used to determine annual borrowing limits for student loans and refers to the student’s academic standing at school, not the number of years he’s been attending college. Enter the appropriate response for the grade level the student has attained at the start of the academic year, rather than the level the student will attain during the year. For example, a student who in the fall term will be a second semester sophomore should use the response “2nd year undergraduate/sophomore” even though she will be a junior by mid-year.
30.Your degree/certificate code. You should choose the most appropriate response from the choices provided.
31.Are you interested in being considered for work study? You would like the colleges to come up with their best offer before you start to commit yourself. Because of this, we recommend that you indicate you are interested in work-study. This does not commit you; you can change your mind later. This question has no effect on grant or scholarship eligibility.
Now that you’ve completed some basic information regarding the student, it’s time to move on to the more important questions on the FAFSA. You will notice that questions 32-45 for the student and questions 80-94 for the parent(s) are almost identical, though the numbering of the questions is different. Since most of our readers will be having to complete all of these questions, for simplicity sake we will be pairing up these questions later in this chapter. To determine for sure whether or not you’ll need to complete the questions in the purple shaded areas of the FAFSA, you’ll need to first determine the student’s status. So let’s skip questions 32-45 for now and go directly to Step Three, questions 46-58.
These questions are here to establish whether a student is independent or dependent. (A dependent student usually receives financial help from her family. An independent student does not.) The colleges would prefer that all their students were dependent. Independent students are much more expensive for a school since they usually require more financial aid.
Of course it would be wonderful if your child could establish that he is independent, but there are several tough criteria to meet and they get tougher all the time. If a student can answer “yes” to any of the questions 46-58, then he is undoubtedly independent for federal aid purposes for the 2017-2018 academic year.
46.Were you born before January 1, 1994?
47.As of today, are you married?
48.During the school year 2017-2018, will you be working on a masters or doctorate program?
49.Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
50.Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
51.Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018?
52.Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2018?
53.When you were age 13 or older, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent/ward of the court?
54.As of today, are you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
55.As of today, are you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
56.At any time on or after July 1, 2016, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
57.At any time on or after July 1, 2016, did the director of an emergency shelter program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
58.At any time on or after July 1, 2016, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
If you are able to answer “Yes” to any of these questions, according to federal guidelines, you are an independent student and you can usually skip the parents’ purple-shaded questions on the rest of the form.
Veterans of the financial aid process will notice that there are more ways for a student to be considered independent for the 2017-2018 academic year than there were a few years ago. But before you answer “yes” to any of these questions you should read them carefully. And for questions 49-50, and 53-58, you should be sure to read the notes regarding them in the FAFSA instructions—because there is a lot of fine print involved.
If you answer “No” to each of the questions from 46-58, then most likely the child will be considered a dependent student in which case you get to skip the independent student questions (95-102) in Step Five of the form.
One exception to these rules would be for certain graduate health profession students. Graduate students who apply for federal aid from programs under title VII of the Public Health Service Act may need to give information about their parents, even if they filled in “yes” to any of the questions in Step Three. In this instance, we suggest you contact the FAOs at the schools to which you are applying and inquire about this before you fill out the FAFSA.
A few years ago, claiming that the child was an independent student was a popular financial aid loophole that many parents took advantage of. The colleges and the government have since cracked down and every year the rules get more stringent. If you can go the independent route, be prepared to provide extensive documentation to the financial aid office—i.e., birth certificate (proving you will be at least 24 by January 1 of the academic year you are seeking aid), marriage license, court decisions, discharge papers, etc. You should also be aware that many schools have even tougher criteria for proving independence than the federal guidelines. Some colleges require independent students to fill out the parent information on the FAFSA form even if they do meet the federal guidelines, and a few will insist that parents are still responsible for some portion of their child’s tuition.
In very rare circumstances, the FAOs can use their professional judgment to decide that a student is independent even if the student doesn’t completely fit the federal criteria.
Now that you’ve completed Step Three on the form, let’s move on to the financial questions on the form, which are the most important ones. As mentioned earlier, questions 32-45 for the student and questions 80-94 are very similar. To simplify matters, we’ll be pairing them up. Thus, for example, we will address question 36—the adjusted gross income for the student—and question 85—the adjusted gross income for the parent—simultaneously. Before you begin writing your responses for these questions, we first recommend that you read the instructions that appear at the top of these steps of the FAFSA. We also suggest that you reread Chapter Three of this book.
If you are filing the online version of the FAFSA and the student and/or the student’s parent(s) have already completed a final version of the 2015 U.S. tax return and filed it with the IRS: then you may or may not be able to use the “IRS Data Retrieval Tool” (or DRT) to have your income tax data automatically transferred from the IRS database onto the form. By using this tool, you also reduce the chances your application will be subject to additional scrutiny through a financial aid process known as “Verification” (which we discuss later in this part of the book and is not nearly as onerous as it sounds).
Given that the 2017-2018 FAFSA will be asking about prior-prior year (2015) and most individuals will have already completed their 2015 personal return, more students and their parents will be able to use the IRS DRT when they file the original 2017-2018 FAFSA compared to older versions of the form—when prior year data had to be estimated if the tax returns could not be done before the aid deadlines.
If you are not able to use the IRS DRT for whatever reason—for example, you have not yet filed the return or the tool is generating some error message—this is no reason for panic. While use of the IRS DRT is encouraged by the feds and the colleges, it is not mandatory. And you should not delay filing the FAFSA until you can get the tool to work, if such a delay could result in a possible reduction of aid. (See this page-this page for guidelines as to when to file for optimal aid.)
But even if you’re permitted to use the tool (which is recommended), there are still some glitches that can occur. But more important, there are a few specific instances where use of the tool can result in a higher EFC figure if you are not careful. So be sure to read the section entitled “Key Things To Know About the IRS Data Retrieval Tool and the IRS Transcript Verification Requirement” that begins on this page before you continue further with completing the FAFSA.
And whether or not you are able to use the IRS DRT, we will still provide line-by-line tips for each of the remaining question on the FAFSA, which you should be sure review even if the tool provided the answer. Given that the IRS tool does not provide pre-filled answers for all the financial questions, we will also note those that will transfer from the tool with the words “IRS transfer” for easier identification.
33-35. and 81-83. Type of U.S. income tax return. (IRS transfer for some of them, see comments and warning below!) These questions are being asked to determine if you meet some of the criteria for the Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic Zero-EFC. Many parents will probably be using the 1040 form just because their tax situation is no longer simple. If children can avoid filing a tax return at all, it may be to the family’s advantage. If your child must file, use the simplest form possible. If the parents can file the 1040A or the 1040EZ form (or are not required to file any tax return), it may be to your advantage in order to qualify for the Simplified Needs Test (which excludes all assets from the federal formula) or the Automatic Zero-EFC. If you are going to be estimating on the FAFSA, you may at least want to figure out which IRS form, if any, you will eventually be filing. By saying here on the FAFSA that the parent(s) intend to file the 1040 and are not eligible or don’t know if they are eligible to file the 1040A or the 1040EZ (or are not required to file any tax return), you will disqualify yourself from the Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic Zero-EFC during the initial processing. Even if they later end up filing the 1040A or the 1040EZ and you qualify for the Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic Zero-EFC, you may find that the colleges have given away the bulk of their available aid and will not be able to increase your package. By the same token, if you say here that they intend to use the short form and then eventually file the long form, you may lose your Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic Zero-EFC status, and with it, a substantial piece of change in the form of reduced aid
If you have already filed a 1040, but are certain that you were eligible to file a 1040A or 1040EZ (or were not required to file any tax return), you should answer “Yes” to question 35 if this applies to the student and you should answer yes to question 83 if it applies to the parent(s). If you have not yet filed, but are certain you can file a 1040A or a 1040EZ (and you are required to file a return), if at all possible you should file those forms with the IRS to avoid any confusion in the financial aid office. You should also reread our section on the Simplified Needs Test and the Automatic Zero-EFC (see this section).
For Questions 34 and 82 (IRS transfer - eventually): Select from the menu choices based on the anticipated or actual filing status you will claim on the tax return. (You will be asked to answer these questions online if you indicate a return was completed so that the processor can determine if you can use the IRS DRT. But after you use the IRS DRT, the words, “Transferred from the IRS” will appear next to these two questions, if applicable.
If you filed, or will file, a foreign tax return, or a tax return for Puerto Rico, certain U.S. territories (such as Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Swain’s Island or the Marianas Islands) or one of the freely associated states (i.e., the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands or the Federated States of Micronesia), be sure to read the corresponding Notes in the FAFSA instructions. Those who file a foreign tax return should also consult this page in the “Special Topics” chapter of this book.
For Questions 35 and 83. (Warning: we are not sure if the IRS DRT will generate the correct answers for these questions for those with Adjusted Gross Incomes below $50,000 on a completed IRS 1040 return.) When we went to press, a demo version of the online FAFSA was not yet available to the aid community. For those who file the IRS 1040 (the type of return is asked in questions 33 and 81, and then the DRT pre-fills the actual response with the IRS transfer), we are not sure if the IRS Tool will properly diagnose and supply a “Yes” response for FAFSA 35 or 83 if the tax filer could file a 1040A or 1040EZ - or if it will diagnose those who had gross income that was below the level where one is required to file. As such, one should pay attention to any responses generated by the IRS DRT for questions 35 and 83 if you otherwise qualify for the Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic-Zero EFC
36 and 85. Adjusted gross income. (IRS transfer) If you’ve already filed your taxes: just copy the appropriate line requested from your federal return if you are not able to use the IRS DRT. For example, if you filed the 1040, the AGI is on line 37
However, if you filed as married filing jointly for the 2015 tax return, but now at the time of FAFSA filing are subsequently separated or divorced from the person with whom you filed jointly:
1) you should not be given the option to use the IRS DRT. If you are given the option, most likely you answered some prior question incorrectly.
2) You will need to provide the proportionate share of your Adjusted Gross Income (as well as your proportionate share of U.S. Income Taxes Paid for FAFSA question 37 or 86). See Item 3 under “Worksheet for Calculating the Expected Family Contribution for a Dependent Student” for more details on how to do this.
The same situation would occur if you are now widowed, but filed a joint return for 2015 (even if your late spouse passed away before the end of 2015).
Conversely, if you are now married (or remarried) but your current spouse did not file a joint tax return with you for 2015, then you should not be able to use the IRS DRT and you will need to add the adjusted gross income of your current spouse to your AGI to derive your answer to FAFSA 36 or 85. The same is true for the amount of U.S. Taxes Paid for FAFSA questions 37 or 86.
And finally if you filed jointly in 2015, are no longer married to that other person, but are now remarried (and/or your current spouse was married to someone else in 2015 and filed a joint 2015 tax return with that person): you will need to determine the proportionate share of AGI and the U.S Taxed paid for the 2015 tax return filed with a former spouse, and then combine the appropriate answers to arrive at the correct amounts to use. In this way, the combined number will exclude the former spouse(s)’ AGI and U.S Income Taxes Paid.
If you have not yet filed your 2015 taxes: then use the worksheet we provide at the back of this book (See this page-this page) to derive your best estimate. The 2014 returns can be very helpful in reminding you of all the different kinds of income and expenses you have had in the past. A blank copy of the 2015 return is important as IRS line items can change from year to year. The same process must be duplicated for the student’s income.
37 and 86. U.S. income tax paid. (IRS transfer) If you have already filed an income tax return and are not able to use the IRS DRT, you should write down the total federal income taxes that you paid. The FAFSA form will tell you where to find this on the 2015 tax forms. Do not include the self-employment tax.
If you are estimating, remember that this number is not necessarily the same as the amount your employer withheld. You may have to pay more or less than your withholdings. Remember also that you paid taxes even if you got a refund. Every year we see at least one family who, because they received a refund, put down “0” for their U.S. income tax paid. The amount of federal taxes you paid will be a deduction in the aid formula, so it is in your interest to report all of it. Use a draft of the 2015 return and the IRS instructions as well as Table 6 to assist you. It may be helpful to refer to your 2014 return as well.
The need analysis companies always seem to catch errors in the parents’ favor, but we cannot remember the last time we saw them notify a parent of an error that would save the parents money. Chances are if you make an error such as underreporting your tax bill, your mistake could cost you money for four years.
Self-employed parents, who make quarterly estimated payments to the IRS, sometimes forget that a large part of the money they send to the IRS is self-employment tax, which should not be included here. Although this mistake would be in your favor, the FAOs would almost certainly catch it, causing delays and frustration.
38 and 87. Total number of exemptions. (IRS Transfer) Eventually, this number is going to have to agree with the number of exemptions you take on your taxes. If you filed or will file an IRS 1040EZ, consult the FAFSA instructions for guidelines on how to answer this question.
Even if your child is a millionaire child star, you are allowed to claim him as a dependent on your tax return until he is 24 years old, provided he is a full-time student for at least five months (or partial months) in a given tax year. Of course if he is a millionaire, he will probably want the $4,050 personal exemption for himself. Since most kids earn less than their parents, most families will be better off putting “0”s in the child’s exemption box on the aid form (and on his tax return), and adding his exemption to the parents’ exemption box.
39-40 and 88-89. Income earned from work. (IRS DRT issue, see comments below) See this section and this section for suggested strategies. Parents always ask, “We already gave them our adjusted gross income. Why do they want to know our income earned from work?”
Although they don’t look like it, for tax filers these are expense questions, in which case the only purpose of these questions is to compute how much social security tax you paid (the computer will subtract this from your income) and to see whether you qualify for the employment allowance. Therefore, you want these numbers to be as high as possible.
This is about the time we hear screams of alarm from our clients. “Why are you including my 401(k) contributions? Whose side are you on?” We know these questions are in the “income” section of the form, but trust us, these are expense questions. For most families, the higher this number, the lower your contribution to college will be. Include everything: wages (line 7 from the 1040 or the W2), business and farm income from Schedules C and F (lines 12 and 18 on the 1040), income from any business partnerships other than limited partnerships (use the amounts listed on Box 14 of the K-1 for IRS Form 1065 for the partnership), and—for tax-filers only: contributions to tax-deferred pension and savings plans such as 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, or tax-deferred annuities (which can usually be found in boxes 12a-d of your W-2 form with codes D, E, F, G, H, and S).
If applicable, include the total amount of combat pay received as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.
If you had a loss from business income or from partnerships, don’t subtract the loss from your total earned income. This will underreport the amount of social security tax you paid.
Be aware that questions 88 and 89 are not supposed to add up to question 85, your adjusted gross income. The same holds true for 39 and 40: these should not necessarily equal 36. The sum of your income earned from work and, if applicable, your spouse’s income earned from work could be higher or lower than your AGI.
And if you are able to use the IRS DRT: be aware that the tool will not include the amount of any contributions to tax-deferred retirement plans found in boxes 12-12d of your 2015 W-2. After your tax information is transferred onto the FAFSA from the IRS DRT, you will then be asked the applicable income earned from work question(s). If a number pre-fills while you are answering the income earned from work question(s), you should amend the dollar amount(s) to include an individual’s contributions to such retirement plans in your answer. While overriding other transferred items from the IRS DRT will result in flagging your application and will insure Verification, this will not occur if you change any pre-filled responses for the income earned from work questions.
41-43 and 90-92. The value of your assets. If you meet the requirements of the Simplified Needs Test (SNT) or the Automatic Zero-EFC, you may be able to skip these questions if you file the FAFSA online. If you file the paper version of the FAFSA or download and complete the PDF version of the FAFSA, the processor will not assess any assets you list here provided you meet all the SNT and/or all the Automatic Zero-EFC requirements.
We don’t intend to repeat all the advice we gave under “Assets and Liabilities” in Chapter Three. Look through that chapter again—it could save you some serious money. Remember not to list retirement provisions such as IRA accounts. Under the federal financial aid formulas, assets in retirement provisions are protected from assessment.
Understand that real estate (other than your home) is considered an “investment” for purposes of the FAFSA. You should be sure to read the FAFSA instructions carefully for details about what types of assets to include and what types you should exclude. You should realize that for the questions relating to investments, businesses, and investment farms, you are to list their “Net Worth” which is defined as the current value minus the current debt. If the net worth for a particular question is a negative number, then list “0” in the far right box. Veterans of the aid process may recall that years ago you would list the value and the debt separately. The processor now wants you to do the math. You should also keep in mind that you are not allowed to deduct credit card debt from the value of your assets—only debts secured by those assets that are to be included for these questions.
Be careful not to double-count assets. While the instructions for the FAFSA may seem confusing, keep in mind that an asset belongs to you or to your child. Don’t list the same asset twice. If you have set up a bank account “in trust for” your child, it is legally part of your assets as long as your social security number is listed as the taxpayer I.D. However, if the asset is under the child’s name (or in your name “as custodian for” the child—most likely in a regular UTMA or UGMA account) it will be assessed severely. (Consider consulting a financial advisor who understands the aid process to discuss your options.) It is important to note that the reporting requirements for 529 plans, and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are now as follows: For a student who does not report parental information on the FAFSA, such accounts owned by the student—and if applicable, the student’s spouse—are reported as part of student investments in question 42. However, for a student who must report parental information on the form, these student-owned 529s (often referred to as custodial 529 accounts) or student-owned Coverdell accounts, should be reported as part of parental investments in question 91, and not as part of student assets.
If you have a passbook loan, remember to include the net worth of the account (value minus debt) as part of “investments,” instead of as part of “cash, savings, and checking.”
Do not include your home if it is your primary residence. If you own real estate but you rent your primary residence, include the real estate as part of “investments” but remember to subtract any mortgages or other debts secured by the property from the value of the real estate.
Owners of businesses and farms should also read our advice on this subject (in the Special Topics chapter on this page-this page) before they answer these questions. Remember that if you are a part-owner, you should list only your share of the net worth. Also, if your farm is your primary residence and you can claim on schedule F of your 1040 form that you “materially participated in the farm’s operation,” the net worth of the “family farm” should not be included on the FAFSA.
Note: As we mentioned earlier, the value of any “family business” should not be included as an asset on the FAFSA. A family business is defined as one with 100 or fewer full time or full time equivalent employees in which the “family” owns more than 50 percent of the business. The “more than 50 percent” figure does not apply solely to individuals who must report their financial information on the FAFSA form. Other relatives by blood or by marriage (e.g. siblings, step-parents, relatives-in-law, cousins, etc.) with a stake in the business should also be considered when determining if more than 50 percent is owned by the “family”.
44 and 93. Additional Financial Information. (IRS transfer for one item) For students, the most common item they will report will be federal work-study income. For parents, the most common items will probably be the education credits (e.g. Hope Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit) and child support paid (not received). These education credits will transfer from the IRS DRT, if used. Those who had to report a proportionate share of AGI and U.S. taxes paid on the FAFSA should use the same percentage of AGI used for those calculations AND then multiply that number by the total amount of the education credits reported on either IRS 1040 - line 50 or IRS 1040A - line 33. Do not include child support paid for other family members who are included on the FAFSA as being part of the household. (We will get to the household size questions shortly.) Members of the armed forces who received combat pay or special combat pay should only report the taxable portion of such pay received, and only if they included this pay as part of their adjusted gross income on their tax return. List zero for any category that does not apply.
45 and 94. Untaxed income. (IRS transfer for some items. See below for warning about DRT issues) See this page-this page for our suggested strategies. This is where you must report certain types of income and benefits that the IRS lets you shelter. Some types of untaxed income that a few years ago had to be reported on the FAFSA are no longer considered to be income in the federal methodology. These items include untaxed social security benefits, welfare benefits, the earned income credit, the additional child credit, the foreign income exclusion, and the credit for federal tax on special fuels. There are some additional points to keep in mind regarding certain untaxed income categories:
✵ Child support received. As we’ve said before, the amount you include here should include only the money you actually received during the year, not what was promised.
✵ Deductible IRA contributions. (IRS transfer) As we’ve mentioned before, IRA contributions are not necessarily deductible. If you (and your spouse, if married) are not already an active participant in an employer or self-employed retirement plan, then for 2015, IRA contributions are fully deductible up to the $5,500 per person maximum (up to $6,500 if age 50 or older). If you (or your spouse, if married) are an active participant in a retirement plan, then your contribution may be fully or partly deductible, depending on your income. To determine whether you qualify for a deduction in 2015, consult your accountant or the IRS instructions for the 2015 forms.
Realize that nondeductible portions need not be listed. However, the tax-deductible portion of your retirement contributions is considered untaxed income. It is that tax-deductible portion of your IRA contribution that must be included on the FAFSA worksheet. This number should correspond to line 32 on your 2015 IRS 1040. Contributions to Roth IRA should not be included as part of your answer, since they do not reduce your Adjusted Gross Income.
You should not include qualified rollovers of IRAs or pension funds into another plan. This will cause problems if the DRT is used, so here’s our:
IRS DRT warning (2 possible scenarios): First if you have any amounts reported on lines 15a and/or 16a of the IRS 1040 or on lines 11a or 12a of the IRS 1040A: the IRS DRT should provide a warning message at some point. This is because part or the entire amount reported on those lines of the tax return should NOT be reported on the FAFSA, if there were any rollovers that should be excluded. The IRS DRT tool takes the total amount (other than zero) from those lines of the return (if applicable) and subtracts the corresponding taxable portion (lines 15b and 16b for the IRS 1040 or lines 11b and 12b if the 1040A was filed, to derive an untaxed amount for transfer to the FAFSA. Because the IRS DRT cannot detect any rollover, you will have to manually correct any transferred answer from the DRT for FAFSA 94e or 94f (for the parents) or FAFSA 45e or 45f (for the student) to exclude any qualified rollover of funds to any retirement plan from your FAFSA response(s). This will likely lead to Verification, but that is a small price to pay for not having the rollover amount considered incorrectly as additional untaxed income. If you need to provide the school with an IRS transcript as part of the verification process, be sure to write the word “Rollover” next to the appropriate line on the IRS transcript. You should also contact the financial aid office(s) to alert them to this issue. Be prepared to provide third-party documentation of the rollover from your financial institution that now has your funds after the rollover.
Another IRS DRT issue will occur if there are amount listed on Lines 15b and/or 16b of the IRS 1040 or lines 11b and/or 12 b of the IRS 1040A - but there are no dollar amounts reported in 15a and/or 16a of the 1040 OR 11a and/or 12a on the return (which the IRS DRT will recognize as zero (0). You will then see a number in red for those IRS items at some point before you transfer your IRS data to the FAFSA, since a positive number is being subtracted from zero, resulting in a negative number. Not to worry. The dollar amount in red will automatically change to zero when the transfer to the FAFSA occurs.
✵Combat pay. This item pertains only to servicemen and servicewomen. Any untaxed combat pay you receive should not be included as part of 45i (if received by the student or the student’s spouse) or 94i (if received by parent).
It may be tempting to think about not listing untaxed income you are required to report, but do not give in to temptation. The schools are extremely good at reading between the lines and IRS reporting requirements change from year to year. What doesn’t need to be reported this year on a tax return might very well be reportable next year. You should also bear in mind that the odds of being selected for “verification” by the colleges and/or the government are much greater than the odds of being audited by the IRS.
Now that you’ve finished the financial questions on the FAFSA, the hardest part of completing the form is over. There are still a few more questions that you will have to answer.
As previously mentioned, if the student is dependent you can skip questions 95-102. If the student is independent, you’ll need to answer them. However, since the majority of our readers will be completing the FAFSA for dependent students, we are going to go back and cover the remaining parent questions first (questions 59-79 and 84). If you are independent, we’ll cover questions 95-102 on this page since these are very similar to a number of the parent questions.
59.What is your parents’ current marital status? Given the state of modern relationships in this country, this is a complicated question. For financial aid purposes, “parent” means the person or persons the child lived with most during the past 12 months—known as the custodial parent(s). This is not necessarily the same parent who claims the child on a tax return or the person who was awarded custody by the courts. If you are divorced or separated, please read Chapter Nine of this book, “Special Topics.” Also carefully review the FAFSA instructions as well as the text on this page about which parent(s) and, if applicable stepparent, must report info on the FAFSA.
And remember that “Marital status” refers to the custodial parents’ status RIGHT NOW. Here again is a summary:
✵Married/Remarried—If the natural parents of the student are still married, fill in the oval for “Married/Remarried.” If the custodial parent was divorced or widowed and has since remarried, also fill in “Married/Remarried.”
✵Never married—If the natural or adopted parents of the child never married each other, or anyone else—ever—this is the oval you fill in unless one parent is currently living with the other parent, in which case you should answer “Unmarried and both parents living together”.
✵Divorced—If the parent with whom the child lives is divorced, has not remarried, and is not living with the former spouse, fill in the oval for “Divorced/Separated.” If the custodial parent was divorced or widowed, got married and divorced again, fill in “Divorced/Separated.”
✵Separated—If the natural parents are separated, fill in the oval for “Divorced/ Separated.” You do not need to have a legal separation agreement to be considered separated under the aid formula. If the custodial parent was divorced or widowed, remarried, and is now separated again, fill in “Divorced/Separated.”
✵Widowed—If the custodial parent is widowed, and has not since remarried, fill in “Widowed.”
60.Date married, separated, divorced, or widowed. If you answered “Never married” for question 59, refer to the FAFSA instructions. Otherwise, you should answer accordingly using two digits for the month and four digits for the year.
61-68. Parents’ social security numbers, last names, first initials, and dates of birth. For many years, the Secretary of Education had the authority to verify the applicable income tax return information reported on the FAFSA with the Internal Revenue Service, but chose not to do so. However, such verification can now be done with the IRS DRT. As such, the parents’ social security numbers, surnames, and first initials will be needed. These questions refer to the custodial parents (or custodial parent and stepparent if applicable). The name for a parent should agree with the name reported on the 2015 tax return and the individual’s social security card.
If your answer to question 59 was never married, divorced/separated, or widowed (and you are not living with the other biological or adoptive parent of the student), you should only be listing this information for one parent on the paper or PDF version of the FAFSA, leaving the information about the other parent blank. For the online version, these questions will only be asked of one parent.
If a custodial parent has remarried, you should be reporting information for the custodial parent and the stepparent. Since the IRS forms do not require that the husband be listed first on a joint return, you should be careful writing down the social security numbers on the FAFSA. Make sure you have the correct number for the correct parent.
For dates of birth, see this page for our suggested strategies. This is one of the few times when you don’t want to lie about your age. The purpose of questions 64 and/or 68 is to determine your asset protection allowance.
It is very important that you list the same last name as it appears on the social security card for questions 61 and 65. Otherwise, there can be processing problems if the surname reported doesn’t agree exactly with the social security database.
69.Parents’ e-mail address. Unlike question 13, the listing of an email address for this question will not prevent the Department of Education from sending the student a paper version of the Student Aid Report (SAR).
70.Parents’ state of legal residence. Be sure to use the correct abbreviation.
71-72. Date parents became legal residents. Use the earliest date that either of the student’s custodial parents (or stepparent) began living in the state when answering question 71. Answer question 72, only if your answer to question 71 is “No”.
73.Number of family members. This question is used to help determine the income protection allowance. You would like this number to be as high as possible. The more family members, the higher your allowance. Include the student whose name is on the FAFSA, custodial parents (this includes a stepparent as long as he or she is living in the household), other children (even if they don’t live at home as long as they are receiving more than half of their support from the custodial parents or they are not “independent” for federal aid purposes for the 2017-2018 academic year), grandparents or other individuals (if they live in the household and get more than half support from the custodial parents and will continue to get this support from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018), and newborn babies (even if they are not yet born when you are filling out the form).
The number of family members does not have to agree with the number of exemptions you took on your taxes for the past year—but if it doesn’t, the colleges will probably ask why. That’s okay. Just be prepared to explain.
74.Number of college students in the household. One of the myths about college is that it is better not to have two kids in school at the same time. In fact, if you qualify for aid, the more members of your household who can attend college at the same time, the better. In addition to being enrolled at least half-time during 2017-2018 (6 credits or more for at least one term or the equivalent), the other household member must be enrolled in a degree or certificate program. The student applying for aid should always be included even if he is attending college less than half-time.
In theory, the parents’ expected contribution stays the same regardless of how many students are in school. If you have one daughter in school, you will be expected to pay the full amount of the parents’ contribution toward her tuition. If you have two daughters in college at the same time, the two colleges will usually divide the parents’ contribution between them and make up the difference with a larger aid package. For example, let’s suppose that Mr. and Mrs. Jones have two sons, Frank and Tom. Last year, only Frank was attending college. The Joneses’ expected contribution was judged to be $9,000, and they paid the full $9,000 to Frank’s college. This year both Frank and Tom will be in college, but the Joneses’ expected contribution is still just $9,000. Each school will receive $4,500 and will try to make up the difference with additional aid. In effect, the Joneses are getting two educations for the price of one.
In addition, some parents who might not have qualified for aid with only one child in college find that with two children in school at the same time, they do qualify for substantial amounts of aid. This is why it is worth applying for aid each year, even if you were refused the first time. If one of your children is trying to decide whether to take a year off from college, this might be a factor when it comes time to make that decision. You want as much overlap as possible.
Parents are not to be included as family members in college for the purposes of this FAFSA question. If a parent is attending college, graduate school, or some other post-secondary institution, you should be sure to notify the FAOs directly about this fact, as some schools may take these added family expenses into account when they are reviewing your application materials.
75-79. In 2015 and/or 2016, did any members of the household receive certain need-based benefits from the federal government? These questions are being asked to determine if you meet some of the alternate criteria for the Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic Zero-EFC. You need only receive the benefit at some point in 2015 and/or 2016—not necessarily for the entire 24 months. For the online FOTW, you may need to reply “None of the above” if you did not receive any of these benefits in 2015 or 2016.
84 and 102. Can you qualify as a dislocated worker? Be sure to carefully read the Notes in the FAFSA instructions. We’ll discuss this question on this section as well.
You have to answer questions 95-102 only if you are an independent student. The strategy for questions 95 and 96 here is virtually the same as it will be for questions 73 and 74: the more family members the better; the more family members considered in college the better. Compared to question 73, question 95 has a slightly more rigid definition of which children can be considered to be members of the household. Therefore, if you are completing Step Five of the form, be sure to read the FAFSA instructions related to these questions carefully. Questions 97-101 are the corresponding questions to determine alternate criteria for SNT or Automatic Zero-EFC eligibility for independent students. Question 102 is similar to question 84 in the parent’s section. Review the corresponding Notes in the FAFSA instructions and see this page-this page for more details.
103. What college(s) do you plan to attend in 2017-2018?
If you’re completing the paper or the PDF version of the FAFSA: List all the schools (up to four) to which you want the data sent. List only one school per line and don’t cross out or skip any lines. You have a choice of writing in the complete name and address of the school, or of listing the six-digit code for the school. (The instructions printed above these questions on the FAFSA tell you how to find the code numbers.) The feds say that using the codes will speed up processing time. On the other hand, if you make a mistake when you write down the code, your information will not be sent to the school you wanted and you may not find out about the snafu until it is too late. Either way, we recommend that you take great care in writing down the information on the FAFSA. If you are applying to a particular branch or division of a university, be sure to specify that as well or use the correct code for that branch or division. If you are applying to more than four schools, you should first list those schools with the earliest FAFSA deadlines. After your FAFSA has been processed, there are ways you can have the data sent to the colleges you were not able to list on the FAFSA. (If you are applying to any schools in your home state, we recommend that you list at least one of them first here.) At the far right of this section, you must list the correct housing code for each school. If you aren’t sure, fill in the “on campus” response oval since the cost of attendance will be higher if you are living on campus.
If you’re filing the FAFSA online: List the code numbers for all the schools (up to ten) to which you want the data sent. After you input the code for a particular school, make sure that the name of the correct school appears on your screen. You must also select the correct housing status for each school. If you aren’t sure, use the “on campus” response since the cost of attendance will be higher if you are living on campus. If you are applying to more than ten schools, you should first list those schools with the earliest FAFSA deadlines. After your FAFSA has been processed, there are ways you can have the data sent to the colleges you were not able to list on the FAFSA.
Regardless of how you file the FAFSA: If you are applying to any schools in your home state, we recommend that you list at least one of them first on the FAFSA.
104-105. Certification. The student’s signature is always required on the form. If the purple-shaded areas were completed on the form, then one of the custodial parents’ signatures must appear on the form as well. Simply by signing the FAFSA, you are applying for all types of federal aid, including the Pell Grant. When you sign, you are affirming that to the best of your knowledge, the information you have supplied is true and complete. An unwitting mistake will not be grounds for electrocution. However, a deliberate lie is fraud—a federal crime.
You cannot sign, date, or mail in, the 2017-2018 FAFSA until October 1, 2016. Be sure to enter the date and fill in the correct year for question 104. If you’re filing the FAFSA online, see comments below on how to “sign” the form.
As part of the FAFSA instructions, there is a comment concerning “unusual circumstances.” With the exception of a family member who recently became unemployed (also sometimes referred to as a dislocated worker), we have already discussed these items. Recently unemployed workers will be covered in the “Special Topics” chapter, as well as in our instructions on how to fill out the PROFILE form (section PF) which follows.
106-108. FAFSA preparer information. You can skip this section if you are filling out the FAFSA on your own. The only person who would have to fill out this section is someone other than the student, the student’s spouse, or the student’s parents or stepparents. For example, if the form were filled out by a financial aid consultant, a tax preparer, a high school guidance counselor, or a financial aid officer, then this person would have to complete this section and sign off on the form.
Some FAOs have already hinted to parents that the appearance of a preparer’s name on the form will make the application subject to much closer scrutiny. Aside from the questionable legality of such a practice by the school, at the time of this writing the Department of Education had not yet determined if they would release this information to the schools. In addition, details as to what constitutes a “preparer” and at what point someone must sign on the form have not yet been completely clarified.
Note: If you are filing the FAFSA online, you will need to “sign” the form. This can be done by either printing a signature page and mailing the signed page to the processor OR by submitting the required signatures electronically using a FSA ID for each person who is “signing” the form.
It is generally easier to submit your FAFSA after you have the necessary FSA ID(s). However if you have a deadline looming and you are having difficulty obtaining the necessary FSA ID(s), you should submit the FAFSA without the FSA ID(s) and indicate you will sign the form using a signature page. Even though the FAFSA will not be processed until the form is signed electronically with the FSA ID(s) or a completed signature page is received by the processor, your form will still be considered “received” by the processor as of the date you submit your data. However, once you get the FSA ID, you should then log back in and “sign” the form. If you have “signed” the form with the FSA ID(s) and submitted the data, you should click on the “Exit” icon on the Confirmation page to check your status. You should see a message that indicates all signature requirements have been met.
That does it for the FAFSA. Congratulations! If none of the schools to which you are applying require the PROFILE form, skip ahead to this page, “Are You Done?” Otherwise, let’s go to the PROFILE form.
FILLING OUT THE 2017-2018 PROFILE FORM
If you are required to fill out the PROFILE as well as the FAFSA, be sure to review the instructions for the PROFILE carefully once you are registered. Many of the questions on the PROFILE will correspond exactly to the questions on the FAFSA. However, because the 2017-2018 PROFILE form is customized to your individual situation based on your registration responses, there are no question numbers preceding the questions. Instead, when viewing the PROFILE online (or the pre-application worksheet) you will notice a two-letter three-digit “help code” that follows each question. We are making an informed guess that the ordering of the sections and the corresponding help-code numbers will be the same as last year. If there are any significant changes, we will post them on our website update page at www.princetonreview.com/financialaidupdate, by mid-to-late October, 2016—before any school’s PROFILE deadline.
Before you start completing the PROFILE, you should first read any special instructions that may appear online. In the line-by-line instructions that follow, we have listed every possible question for the core section of the PROFILE—but remember, depending on the responses you gave when you registered, you very well may not be asked all the questions. For example, if the student’s parents do NOT own their own home, they will no longer have to answer questions regarding its value or purchase price.
Keep in mind that there are some important differences between the PROFILE and the FAFSA:
1)On the PROFILE form, real estate (other than your primary residence) should not be included as an “Investment”. It will be listed in a separate category: “Other real estate”.
2)Regarding certain assets, the PROFILE requires you to list “What is it worth today” (value) and “What is owed on it” (debt) separately. The College Board will then do the subtraction for you to determine your net assets.
3)Even if you can skip the asset questions on the online FAFSA, you must answer all the asset questions on the PROFILE.
4)List whole dollar amounts; do not list cents. Do not use the dollar sign—just list the dollar amount. Do not use commas to separate numbers. For example, $53,205 should be listed as 53205. Use the minus sign before any negative numbers; do not use parentheses.
5)Since the overwhelming majority of our readers live in the United States, the PROFILE tips that follow do not cover the PROFILE questions that may be asked of international students. Most of these international questions do not correspond to items on the FAFSA, since only students classified as international who are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens living outside of the United States or its possessions are normally eligible for federal student aid programs funded by the U.S. federal government.
A note to veterans of the PROFILE process from prior years: If you have any funds in Coverdell ESAs (formerly known as Education IRAs), or state-sponsored tuition savings accounts or prepaid tuition plans, you should be sure to refer to this page. Unlike prior versions of the FAFSA and PROFILE, these plans are now handled virtually the same way on both forms for such parent-owned plans. However, the treatment of such student-owned Coverdells/529 plans will be treated differently but only if parental data must be reported on the PROFILE and FAFSA. You should realize that any comments in this section regarding the similarity of FAFSA and PROFILE responses will now normally apply to both forms if you have any parent-owned funds in these special investments—unless you are required to provide parental information on one form but not the other.
PROFILE Section—Parents’ Data (PD)
Before proceeding further, you should refer to the appropriate instructions for the PROFILE. Even students who are not required to answer the purple-shaded sections of the FAFSA form may have to complete the parents’ sections of the PROFILE.
PD-100 through PD-285. When it comes time to list the occupations of the parents, you should try to be humble. If you put down “CEO, General Motors,” do not expect a lot of sympathy from the FAOs. For PD-145-170 and PD-240-265, you should provide the appropriate responses for the various types of retirement programs if you will receive any funds from such programs at some point in the future even if you are not receiving such funds now. If you have previously contributed to 401(k)s, 403(b)s, a TDA plan and/or other tax-deferred retirement plans, you should realize that these retirement plans are covered in PD-165 and PD-260. You should then list the value of such plans in PD-175 and/or PD-270. (List zero for these two items if no funds have ever been contributed to such plans or there are no longer any funds in these plans.)
PROFILE Section—Parents’ Household Information (PH)
PH-100. Household size. For most families, this will be similar to FAFSA 73. One exception will be for those families who could include other children in the household solely because they could not be considered “independent” if they themselves filed a FAFSA. For the PROFILE, other children are only part of the household if they will receive more than half of their support from the custodial parent(s) and/or if applicable, the custodial stepparent.
PH-105. Number in college. If PH-100 is the same as FAFSA 73, then this answer will be the same as FAFSA 74.
PH-115. Parent’s remarriage date. Most likely, only a remarried custodial parent will be asked this.
PH-120. Parents’ state of legal residence. Same as FAFSA 70.
PH-125. Parents’ preferred email address. If none, leave this question blank. If applicable and the student’s parents are separated or divorced, list the email address for the custodial parent.
PH-130. This question corresponds to FAFSA questions 75-79. Answer “yes” if the parents received at least one of these benefits at any time in 2015 or 2016.
PH-135. Dislocated worker. Same as FAFSA 84.
If your earliest PROFILE deadline is not until November 1, 2016 at the earliest (November PROFILE deadlines are most likely to only occur if the student is applying Early Decision or Early Action to some PROFILE schools) AND you are on extension but will file your 2015 IRS return(s) before your earliest PROFILE deadline, THEN you should wait to submit your PROFILE data to the processor until your 2015 return(s) are completed by mid-October. That way you will be able to use completed return data. But if you still have not done your 2015 income tax returns by the time of your earliest PROFILE deadline, then provide your best estimates for 2015 data using your 2014 tax return and a draft version of the 2015 IRS form as a guide if you will file a return. If you are not required to file a return, then use your best estimates about your other income items. Some questions for the PROFILE that follow may not be asked, based on your registration responses.
PROFILE Section—Parents’ 2015 Income and Benefits (PI)
PI-100. Total number of exemptions. Same as FAFSA 87.
PI-105 through PI-130. Breakdown of AGI. These questions mimic the line numbers on the federal tax form so that the colleges can get a more precise picture of your income. If you’ve already done your 2015 taxes or followed our advice and constructed a draft version of your taxes for the FAFSA, these questions should be straightforward, though you may need to add some numbers from various line items on the IRS return together. The sum of PI-105 through PI-125 minus PI-130 must agree with FAFSA 85 as well as PI-135. Use the minus sign before any negative numbers.
PI-135. Adjusted Gross Income. Same as FAFSA 85.
PI-140. U.S. Income tax paid. Same as FAFSA 86.
PI-145. Education Credits. If your tax returns are completed, refer to the appropriate line on your federal return. If not, refer to FAFSA 93a. If you did not pay any post-secondary school tuition during the calendar year 2015, this answer will be 0.
PI-150. Itemized Deductions. If you have already completed your 2015 income taxes, refer to the last line on Schedule A of the IRS 1040 for the answer to this one. If you did not file a Schedule A and took the standard deduction, enter “0.” Use your 2014 return as a guide if your 2015 return is not yet completed.
PI-155 and PI-160. Income earned from work. Same as FAFSA 88 and 89.
PI-163. Combat pay. Same as FAFSA 93e.
PI-165 through PI-225. Untaxed Income. For questions PI-180, PI-185, PI-187, PI-190, PI-192, PI-210, PI-211, PI-215, PI-212, and PI-225, you should be consistent with FAFSA 94, as some of these questions correspond to certain parts of that FAFSA question. Since the institutional methodology excludes social security benefits received for the student, the PROFILE form only asks you to report those untaxed benefits paid to the parent for all family members, except the student. If you paid no post-secondary school expenses in 2015, then enter 0 (zero) for PI-195. PI-200 to PI-203 refer to pre-tax contributions to Flexible Spending Accounts for dependent care and medical spending accounts and/or to Health Savings Accounts (HSA) contributions and/or the HSA deduction claimed on your 2015 return; do not include deductions for health insurance premiums. For PI-225, you should complete the PROFILE worksheet in the instructions. Here are some additional tips for Section PI:
✵ PI-205. Earned Income Credit. This item involves a tax credit given by the IRS to certain lower income individuals who earn at least some of their income from work. If you have already completed your 2015 federal income tax return, simply refer to the IRS line references and answer accordingly. Otherwise, provide your best estimate. Of course, if your income is too high to qualify for the credit, write in “0” for this item.
✵ PI-165. Social security benefits. This item is not about the social security tax (FICA) that you paid on your income; it is about untaxed social security benefits you may have received for yourself and/or benefits you may have received for others (excluding the student) during the entire year.
Part of social security benefits may be taxable. If this is true for you, be sure to subtract the taxable portion from the total benefits to come up with the untaxed portion. Be careful not to double-count.
Payments paid to you for your children are considered part of your income for financial aid purposes and should not be listed in the student section. This is to your advantage because parents’ income is assessed less heavily than a child’s. Unfortunately, you must include as part of parents’ income the benefits you received for your other children as well.
Let’s see how this works with a slightly oversimplified example. Let’s say that Dad has retired and is receiving $10,000 in social security benefits each year (85% of which is taxable). His two daughters (who are siblings of the aid applicant) are also receiving $4,000 apiece in social security benefits. Mom works and earns $50,000 a year. The family has no other income. The family’s total taxable income is $58,500 (Mom’s $50,000 plus the $8,500 taxable portion of Dad’s $10,000). The family’s total untaxed social security benefits are $9,500 (the two siblings’ $4,000 apiece plus the $1,500 untaxed portion of Dad’s $10,000). Any untaxed benefits paid to the parents for the student are not to be listed in PI-165A (or anywhere else on the form).
The Institutional Methodology and the Federal Methodology for the 2017-2018 award year and beyond will now be based on prior-prior year or “PPY” income. But beginning with the 2017-2018 PROFILE, information regarding the “recent year” (2016) and the “anticipated year” (2017) will also be requested. However, the questions involving 2016 and 2017 income will not require nearly as much detail as the 2015 PPY data. Because similar data is required for the 2016 and 2017 income questions, our tips on how to answer these questions involving 2016 and 2017 income items will be the same in the text that follows.
PROFILE Sections—Parent’s 2016 Income and Benefits (PR) and Parents’ 2017 Expected Income & Benefits (PF)
Since your 2016 income tax returns will likely not be completed until after your earliest PROFILE deadline for a regular decision school, there is no question of getting into trouble if your figures are off a bit. In most cases, the colleges will be awarding aid using your 2015 income year data rather than your projections for the coming year. However, some schools have been known to reduce aid if current income for the year is larger than income listed for the base income year. Of course, if 2016 and/or 2017 income will be significantly less than 2015 income, you should explain the situation in the Explanation and Special Circumstances Section (ES) towards the end of the form. You should also contact the financial aid office directly as well.
If You Are Recently Unemployed
If you have been terminated, laid off, have received notice that you will be laid off, or are self-employed but out-of-work due to harsh economic conditions or a natural disaster, then the questions in this section take on added importance.
Using “professional judgment”, the FAOs may ignore the income you had in the base income year, and focus instead on the projections you have made for the upcoming years. Since you are unemployed, your projections will be low. This can save you thousands of dollars.
Anyone who is out of work or even just feeling that her situation is unstable should read our section about “The Recently Unemployed Worker” in the “Special Topics” chapter.
Some Pointers for Projecting 2016 and 2017 Income (PR and PF)
✵Everyone’s impulse is simply to list the same figures he listed last year. Our advice is to be conservative. Don’t talk about a raise you are supposed to get but haven’t yet received. If you are out of work, give the FAOs the worst-case scenario so that they will be prepared if you haven’t found work yet by next year.
✵If you are self-employed, use your expected NET business income, not the gross.
✵If you just took a job at a lower salary or you know you will have less overtime or a smaller bonus in the coming year, make sure the figures reflect this. It is difficult to say how much weight the colleges give the questions in this section if you are still gainfully employed. If you are already aware of any extreme changes in your situation compared to 2015, you should probably write to the individual FAOs directly, rather than relying on them to take these projections on the PROFILE into account.
PR/PF 100-105. Income earned from work. These sound just like PI-155 and PI-160, but they are not quite the same. With PROFILE section PI, the PPY income from work questions are expense questions for tax filers. But the questions about income from work in Sections PR and PF count as income questions this time, even for tax-filers. Be careful not to double-count your income. If you project that you will be contributing to deferred compensation provisions next year [such as 401(k) or 403(d) plans], you should include the contributions as part of your regular income earned from work for that year—and exclude them from PR 115 and PF115, untaxed income and benefits. Do not count them twice.
For PR-110 and PF-110, make a rough projection of your other taxable income for the respective years (see this page-this page for our suggested strategies)—include interest, dividend, real estate income, etc. and subtract any losses. Use a minus sign if the sum is a negative number.
Despite what the instructions say, do not include deductible IRA and Keogh contributions or the amount of the tuition and fees deduction as part of untaxed income in Sections PR or PF. Because you did not get to deduct these items in the preceding questions of this section (as you did with your AGI for the 2015 PPY year), there is no need to list them here. Their inclusion would overstate your income for 2016 and/or 2017. Also, do not include taxable combat pay which should be included in Sections PR and/or PF as part of your income from work.
If 2016 or 2017 income will be significantly less than 2015 income and you are applying to colleges that do not require the PROFILE form, we recommend that you write the FAO a separate letter explaining your change in circumstances. Be sure to give them a breakdown of your various income items utilizing the suggestions above. And be prepared to provide documentation for any reduction of income.
PROFILE Section—Parents’ Assets (PA)
PA-100. Cash, savings, and checking accounts. Same as FAFSA 90.
PA-105. Total value of sibling assets. Be sure to read the PROFILE instructions for this question carefully before you answer.
PA-120 and PA-125. Investments. With the exception of real estate other than your home and/or any student-owned Coverdell/529 plans, include the same investments and debts against investments that you used to calculate FAFSA 91. However, the “value” minus “owed” answers to this PROFILE question will not necessarily be the same as FAFSA 91 if the parents own other real estate or if the student owns any Coverdell/529 plans.
PA-130 and PA-135. Home. Refer to our strategies in Chapter Three regarding home value and debts on the home (this page-this page). If you rent your primary residence but own other real estate, most likely you will not be asked these questions. You will include the value of that other real estate as part of PA-180.
PA-140 and PA-145. If parents own a home, give the year purchased and the purchase price. This is a check on the value of your home, which is listed in PA-130. By using the Federal Housing Index Multiplier and other tools, the colleges can see if you have lowballed the value of your house. If you inherited the house, the purchase price is “0.” If you built the house yourself, the purchase price is the cost of the house plus the cost of the land.
PA-180 through PA-195. Other real estate. List any real estate owned by the parent that you included as part of FAFSA 91 and any debts against that real estate included as part of FAFSA 91. If you own more than one piece of other real estate, you should list the appropriate information for one of the properties in PA-190 and PA-195. If you do not own any other real estate, list zero for the value, the debt, and the purchase price.
PROFILE Sections—Business Assets (BA) and Farm Assets (FA)
If you do not own a business, a farm, or if you are not self-employed, then most likely you will not be asked to complete these sections. If you do not own 100% of the business or farm, list only your share of the income, expenses, assets and liabilities,
In contrast to the FAFSA, farm value for purposes of the PROFILE includes the value of a “family farm” and business value includes the value of a “family small business.” In addition, you will list the value and the debt for each entity in separate responses. Do not include the farmhouse as part of FA-120 if it has already been listed in PA-130. If you list more than 100 employees in question BA-130 for each and every business entity reported in this section (If any) as well as “no” for all entities in FA-135 (If any), then the sum of your “value” responses in BA-120 and/or FA-120 minus the sum of your “owed” answers (BA-125 and/or FA-125) should be the same as FAFSA 90. (For more details, please refer to this page-this page of this book.)
PROFILE Section—Parents’ Expenses (PE)
For this section of the PROFILE form, you are required to answer the questions relating to the calendar years 2015 as well as 2016 for child support paid, repayment of parents’ education debt and medical and dental expenses. Use annual figures only, and enter zero whenever appropriate.
PE-100 and PE-105. Child support paid. If your answer for FAFSA 93b is “0,” then list “0” for the PE-100 and answer the PE-105 accordingly. Otherwise, you should refer to the “child support you paid…”.in FAFSA 93b. List the same dollar amount for PE-100. Then, give your best estimate for 2016. Note: Independent students who were not required to answer the purple-shaded sections of the FAFSA should refer to the PROFILE instructions for this question.
PE-110 and PE-115. Repayment of parents’ educational debt. Be sure to read the instructions carefully for this one, and only include payments on those types of loans specifically mentioned.
PE-120 and PE-125. Medical and dental expenses not paid by insurance. See this page-this page for our suggested strategies. These expenses are among the most underreported by parents. Use all the IRS allowable expenses. These include medical or dental expenses you’ve charged on a credit card during the year, even if you haven’t paid for them yet. We find that many families forget about health insurance premiums deducted from their paychecks along with medical-related transportation costs. In addition, many members of organized labor forget to include the medical portion of their union dues. Many parents incorrectly assume that if their total gross medical expenses aren’t higher than 10% of their AGI (at which point the expenses above 10% may be deductible if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A of the IRS 1040) then there is no point in writing down the figure for unreimbursed medical expenses at all. This is not true. Even if you don’t qualify for a tax deduction, many schools that require the PROFILE will grant you a deduction against income in the aid formulas if such expenses exceed 3.5% of the sum of your AGI and untaxed income in the IM. Remember, if you are self-employed or own at least 2% of the shares of an S corporation, you may have already taken the self-employed medical insurance deduction on line 29 of the 1040 form. Be sure to exclude those medical insurance premiums if you’ve already deducted them there. After you have figured out 2015 expenses, estimate 2016 as best you can if final numbers are not yet available.
PE-130 through PE-145. Elementary, junior high, and high school tuition for dependent children. See this page for our suggested strategies. Beginning with the 2017-2018 PROFILE, the form now asks for academic year payments. Include only the amount for tuition(s) after any grants or scholarships are deducted. As the instructions say, you can’t include private school tuition for the student applicant going to college. You also cannot include money spent on after-school programs such as Hebrew school or music lessons. If your child is a music prodigy and you anticipate that the private music lessons will continue during college, this can be explained in a separate letter to the colleges.
PE-150. Parents’ monthly home mortgage/rental payment. If you own your primary residence, include the current monthly mortgage payments (first and second) on the house, condominium, or cooperative apartment, as well as any home equity loan payments. Otherwise, list the monthly rent that you pay. Not that it will do you much good. These numbers are not factored into the formula.
PE-200 to PE-265. Other Expenses. If asked, for items PE 200-265 list your expenses for the year 2015. For PE-265, provide your best estimate when you are complete the form.
PROFILE Section—Information About Noncustodial Parent (NP)
NP-100 through NP-150. Divorced, Separated, Remarried, or Never Married Parents. Divorced, separated, or never married parents are always very anxious about this question. “Does this mean they’re going to track down my ex-wife and ask her to pay for part of our son’s college bills?” This is almost always not the case. We recommend that you read our section on divorced or separated parents in Chapter Nine.
PROFILE Section—Student Data (SD)
SD-100 through SD-131. These questions involving the student’s 2016-2017 school year information, state of residence, citizenship, and student benefit information are self-explanatory. Some questions only apply to international students.
SD-135. How many people are in the student’s (and spouse’s) household? If the student is an independent, your answer will be the same as FAFSA 95. If the student is dependent, most likely you will not be asked this question or…
SD-140. How many will be in college at least half-time in 2016-2017? For independent students, your response can include your parent(s), if applicable.
PROFILE Section—Student’s 2015 Income & Benefits (SI)
SI-100. Total number of exemptions. Same as FAFSA 38.
SI-105. Adjusted Gross Income. Same as FAFSA 36.
SI-110. U.S. income tax paid. Same as FAFSA 37.
SI-115. Education tax credits. Same as FAFSA 44a.
SI-120. Itemized deductions. Most students do not itemize deductions. As such, your most likely answer for this question will be “0”, if asked. If the student did or will itemize deductions, your answer to this question will be the same as the bottom line of schedule A of the IRS 1040 form.
SI-125 and SI-130. Income earned from work. Same as FAFSA 39 and 40 respectively.
SI-132. Taxable combat pay included in adjusted gross income. Same as FAFSA 44e.
SI-135. Student dividend and interest income. This question is being asked to detect the presence of student assets during the base income year. The number here should agree with dividend and interest income reported to the IRS.
SI-140 through SI-160. Untaxed income and benefits. Unlike the FAFSA, the amount of any social security benefits paid directly to the student needs to be reported on the PROFILE (SI-140) although such benefits will not affect the family contribution figure calculated by the PROFILE processor. Most students will not have any untaxed income items for this section. However, if this is not the case you should be aware that some types of untaxed income that were not required to be reported for FAFSA 45 need to be listed on the PROFILE.
SI-165. Earnings from Work-Study or other need-based aid, co-op earnings, and any taxable grant or scholarship aid. If you answered “0” for FAFSA, 44c, 44d, and 44f, then answer “0” for this question as well. Otherwise, add together your responses for FAFSA 44c, 44d, and 44f and enter the total on the PROFILE form.
PROFILE Section—Student’s Expected Resources (SR)
SR-100 through SR-105. Veteran’s benefits. Unlike the FAFSA form (which no longer asks any questions regarding veterans educational benefits), if you receive such benefits, you’ll need to report the amount you receive or expect to receive per month between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018—as well as the number of months you expect to receive these benefits during that 12-month period.
SR-110 through SR-145. Student’s Expected Summer/School Year Income. See this page-this page for our suggested strategies. In light of what we have said in our section on student income, we suggest you aim for “0” during the school year (remember not to include work-study earnings in this projection) and as close as possible to the standard amount the colleges ask you to earn during the summer months under the institutional methodology ($2,000 for a freshman, $2,650 for an upperclassman). Always estimate on the low side. Since these are PROFILE questions, most likely the school will use the institutional methodology to determine the student’s contribution from income. Be slightly conservative with your estimates for SR-110 through SR-145. If the student doesn’t expect any income other than from work, enter “0” for SR-130 to SR-145. Most likely SR-120 and SR-125 will only be asked if you indicated the student was married or remarried when you registered for the PROFILE.
SR-150. Outside grants and scholarships, etc. including AmeriCorps benefits. See this page and this page. When answering this question you should not include any awards, unless you are absolutely sure you will be receiving the money. If the student has not received an official notification for any outside organization at the time you are completing the PROFILE form, then list “0.” Do not include any awards from the colleges or universities to which you are applying for aid.
SR-155 through SR-158. Employer/other tuition benefits. If there will be no tuition benefits, enter “0.” If there will be benefits, but the amount of the benefits will be based upon the school attended, list the least benefit that you would receive (considering all the colleges to which you applied that require the PROFILE form). SR-156 to SR-158 apply only to international students. Answer appropriately if asked. Note: U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens living abroad should answer “No” to these questions unless they will be receiving benefits from some government other than the U.S. federal government.
SR-160. Contribution from the student’s parent(s). For dependent students, the best way to answer this question is to use the worksheets at the back of this book to determine an estimate of the parents’ expected contribution per student under the federal methodology (Line R on this page) and then understate it by 30%. In the past, parents who have written down a higher figure on this question than the amount that was later determined by the need analysis companies to be their expected contribution were deemed responsible to pay the higher figure. Independent students should list only a minimal figure if any help is expected; otherwise list “0.”
SR-165. Contributions from others. Before answering this question, you should review the section “Direct Payments to the School” on this page. Be sure to carefully read the help comments available online before you answer this question.
PROFILE Section—Student’s Assets (SA)
SA-100. Cash, savings, and checking accounts. Same as FAFSA 41, unless you were eligible to skip this question if you filed the FAFSA on the Web because you met the Simplified Needs Test or the Automatic Zero-EFC (in which case, you should follow the instructions on the PROFILE to answer all the questions in this section).
SA-105. Retirement accounts. Most students don’t have IRAs, Keoghs or other retirement accounts, so most likely your answer for this will be “0.” Otherwise, answer accordingly.
SA-110 and SA-115. Student investments. Instead of asking for the “net worth” as the FAFSA does, the PROFILE asks you to list the “value” (i.e., what is it worth today) and “what is owed on it” in separate questions. With the exception of trusts and real estate (other than the primary residence) include the same investments and debts against investments which you calculated when you answered FAFSA 42. (Information regarding trusts will be listed in SA-170 through SA-180.) Student-owned Coverdell ESAs and student-owned 529 plans (often called Custodial 529s) should be included in your response for this question (See this page-this page). The difference between your “value” and “owed” numbers for this PROFILE question will not necessarily be the same as FAFSA 42, if the student owns other real estate, has a trust, and/or has any student-owned 529 plans/Coverdells and is required to report parental information on the forms.
SA-120 through SA-135. Home. If you are asked any of these questions and the student does not own his or her primary residence, you should go back to the Registration area and check your responses as you should not be asked these questions. Otherwise, answer accordingly. As we explained in more detail in our comments regarding PA-140 through PA-145, questions SA-130 through SA-135 are an audit check to be sure you have not lowballed the value of real estate.
SA-140 and SA-145. Other real estate. Separately, list the value of any real estate owned by the student that you included as part of FAFSA 42, and any debts against that same real estate. If the student does not have any trusts or any student-owned Coverdells/529 plans, then the sum of the “value” amounts from SA-110 and SA-140 minus the sum of the “what is owed on it” amounts in SA-115 and SA-145 must equal FAFSA 42.
SA-150 through SA-155. Business and Farm. In contrast to the FAFSA, on the PROFILE form farm value includes the value of a “family farm” and business value includes the value of a “small family business.” If the student owns any farm property or business at all, its “value” and “what is owed on it” should be included here.
SA-160. If the student does not own any business, leave this question blank if it is asked.
SA-165. Is the student living on the farm? If the student does not own any farm property, leave this question blank if it is asked.
If you answer “yes” for SA-160 and/or you answer “no” for SA-165, then your answer for SA-150 minus your answer for SA-155 must equal FAFSA 43.
SA-170 through SA-180. Trust information. If you included the value of any trusts as part of FAFSA 42, then you should complete these questions. Otherwise, list “0” in SA-170 and skip SA-175 and SA-180, if asked. You should realize that when the word trust is used for this question, it is not referring to a regular type of bank account that is maintained by one person “in trust for” another person.
PROFILE Section—Student’s 2015 Expenses (SE)
Most dependent students will not be asked the questions in this section, which are primarily for independent students.
SE-100. Child support paid. Same as FAFSA 44b.
SE-105. Student’s medical and dental expenses. If parents paid the medical and dental expenses for the student, don’t include them here—do refer to the PROFILE instructions before answering this one.
PROFILE Section—Family Member Listing (FM)
Do not include the student or the student’s parents in this section. When you add the student and the parent(s)/step parent in the household to the number of people listed in this section your answer should agree with the answer you gave for PH-100.
In this section, you’ll be asked to provide information about any school that other family members attended during the 2016-2017 academic year. The parents’ contribution should include only their part of tuition, and room and board. This is not an expense question. Don’t include the computer you bought her or the cash you gave him for spring break. If a family member was not in school, leave these items blank.
In this section you’ll also be asked to indicate which of the family members listed will be attending college (if any) in the 2017-2018 academic year and on what basis (full-time, half-time) as well as the type of college they will be attending during that period. You will also be asked to provide the name of the educational institution (school, college or university) each family member in this section will attend for the 2017-2018 academic year as well as the total cost of that institution for that year and how much the parents will pay towards that cost. The status of the college students (full-time, half-time) can have an effect on state aid.
Note: If a family member other than the student will not be attending college at least one term on a half-time basis in the 2017-2018 academic year, you must provide the response “No, will not attend” for each applicable family member. If this item is left blank for any family member (other than the student), you will most likely receive an error message regarding data inconsistencies when you attempt to submit your application electronically to the processor.
PROFILE Section—Explanations and Special Circumstances (ES)
You should provide details regarding any PROFILE items that you are required to explain. Otherwise, we suggest that you leave this section blank. It is far more effective to send a separate letter to each college explaining any unusual circumstances.
That about does it for the core questions. Unfortunately, you may not be finished with the PROFILE form just yet. Depending on the colleges and the programs you designated when you registered with the College Board, there may be one or more additional questions that you have to answer. These will appear in:
PROFILE Section—Supplemental Questions(SQ)
At the time we went to press, the pool of available questions for this section had not been finalized. Nor had many individual colleges decided which additional questions, if any, they would be requiring of PROFILE applicants. As such, it is impossible for us to give you any specific advice regarding questions that may appear in this section of your PROFILE form.
It seems a safe bet to assume, however, that the majority of questions in this part of the PROFILE will either be asking for further details regarding items previously listed on the PROFILE or about additional assets or resources not previously reported. After reading Chapter Three and this part of the book, by now you should have a very good idea of the strategy you should be applying in order to maximize your aid eligibility. If you also keep the following points in mind, any questions in this section should not pose too much of a problem for you:
✵ Read the questions carefully. Answer them honestly, but do not disclose more information than required. If a yearly amount is requested, be sure you provide data for the requested calendar or academic year.
✵ Avoid overstating or double-counting assets or income (especially if you are estimating).
✵ Remember to include all allowable expenses or debts.
✵ Keep your responses consistent with other data previously listed on any form.
✵ If you are asked to explain any responses in Section ES, be sure to do so.
Are You Done?
Congratulations! Save your data and/or put your work copy of the forms away for a day. You’ve earned a rest. Tomorrow, look the forms over very carefully. Are you happy with the numbers? If you filled out a PROFILE worksheet or your saved your PROFILE data online, have you made sure all the answers are consistent with the answers you gave on the FAFSA? In addition, do your answers on the PROFILE and the FAFSA agree with any supplemental aid forms required by the colleges? Check the newspaper today to see if your stock or bond investments have lost any value. If so, revise your figures downward.
When you are convinced that everything is ready, carefully copy over all your figures onto the original paper form or review your data for the online version. Date the paper form, sign it, and make photocopies for your records. If you are transmitting your PROFILE information be sure you have credit card or banking information handy as you will likely be charged a processing fee. If you are filing a paper FAFSA, send the original form via Express Mail to the processor. Track delivery with your airbill number.
Your Student Aid Report (SAR) from the government should be available in three to four weeks (or sooner for online filers). Once you transmit your PROFILE data you will be able to print out your PROFILE Acknowledgment.
The SAR Report
If you filed a paper version of the FAFSA and did not provide an e-mail address, you will receive a green multi-page form sent by the government called the Student Aid Report (or SAR) a few weeks after you send in your 2017-2018 FAFSA to the processor. (You can also retrieve the SAR online at fafsa.ed.gov provided you have a verified FSA ID for the student.) If you filed the FAFSA and provided a student e-mail address on either the paper or online version, you will need to retrieve your SAR electronically as no paper SAR will be mailed to the student. No matter which method you used, check the information on the SAR carefully to make sure it agrees with the information you entered on the FAFSA. (Note: If you file the FAFSA online and listed five or more schools in Step Six of the form, only the first four schools listed in Step Six will appear on the paper version of the SAR. However depending on the number of schools you listed on the FAFSA, the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th school will be listed in the online SAR.) Be sure that the SAR includes the correct names of the colleges to which you are applying for aid. If you are applying for aid at more colleges than you could list on the original FAFSA and/or you have decided to add some additional schools and/or the processor did not list a correct school, you will need to get the FAFSA data to those additional schools. You should call the FAOs at each of the schools not listed, explain the situation, and ask them how to proceed. Be sure to keep a record of the person you spoke with at each college as well as a summary of what was discussed. They will probably tell you one of two ways to get the data to them:
1.By sending them a copy of the 2017-2018 SAR. While a number of schools will accept your data this way, you should be sure to mention that the school is not listed in Step Six when you call the aid office. Since you should always have at least one original SAR for your records, you should call (800) 433-3243 to request a duplicate 2017-2018 SAR if you received an original orange SAR in the mail.
2.By revising the SAR. Because the online version allows you to maintain a list of up to ten schools (and only four schools appear on the paper version of the SAR) it is probably better to revise the list online (at www.fafsa.ed.gov) since you can list more schools this way. If you’re sending back a green SAR to the processor, use certified mail—return receipt requested. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions so that the processor will make the necessary corrections. If you already listed the maximum number of schools on the FAFSA, you will be substituting the unlisted school(s) for one or more of the schools previously listed. Before you do this, however, you should make sure any school you are substituting out has received your FAFSA information before you remove them. If you are mailing the SAR back to the processor, make a photocopy for your records. Within a few weeks after mailing, you will receive a new SAR which you should again review for accuracy. If you still have not been able to get all the schools listed after this first round of revising, keep repeating the process until every school gets the FAFSA data. Of course, if you have to do the process more than once, you should give preference on your first revision to those schools with the earliest deadlines.
Note: If you substitute one school for another, the originally listed school will no longer receive any revised data that you send back to the processor. Therefore, if you have to correct or change any items other than those in Step Six, you may need to put the original school(s) no longer listed back on the new SAR that is generated and send it back to the processor.
If you haven’t received a SAR within three weeks of filing, call (800) 433-3243 during business hours for a status report. Be sure to have the student’s social security number handy when you call.
Two Moments of Truth
The SAR will tell you if you qualify for a Pell Grant. Don’t panic if the SAR says you are ineligible. This is a federal grant for lower-income families and many people do not qualify. Just because you didn’t get a Pell Grant does not mean you won’t qualify for any aid at all. The Pell is often the toughest type of aid to get.
The SAR will also tell you your Expected Family Contribution. Below the date on the front page of Part One of the SAR in small type are three letters followed by some numbers.
Here’s a sample of what it might look like:
March 1, 2017
The EFC is your Expected Family Contribution under the federal methodology. There is no dollar sign, no explanatory paragraph, nothing to let you know how significant this number will be to you. In this example, the Expected Family Contribution for one year of college for one child was judged by the need analysis company to be $8,920.
Note: If you filed the FAFSA online, your EFC figure may be provided to you along with your confirmation number right after you submit your FAFSA for processing.
Unfortunately, the federal EFC is not necessarily the number the colleges will elect to use. Schools that asked you to fill out the PROFILE form will most likely be using the institutional methodology to determine the family contribution. This figure could be lower or higher than the federal number. The institutional EFC is never given to the parents by the PROFILE processor.
The Verification Process
“Verification” is the financial aid version of an audit, although the process is generally much more benign. In prior years, either the Federal processor or the colleges themselves could select students for verification, and each college had to verify a minimum of 30% of their applicants. Beginning with the 2014-2015 FAFSA, only the Federal processor will determine who must be selected for verification, but schools can also select additional students.
There are certain rules of thumb:
If you estimated your tax information, you’re more likely to be verified. The lower your EFC, the more likely you are to be verified. If you filled out the paper version of the FAFSA, you’re more likely to be verified.
If you say you’ve already completed your taxes, but don’t use the online tool to populate your form from the IRS records—you more than likely will be selected for verification.
Essentially, a much higher percentage of students (and parents) will be verified than in years past. However, the process will be more streamlined for those who use the IRS data retrieval process (automatically pre-populating the FAFSA form) either when they fill out the form initially, or by later going back to correct/update the form after they’ve completed their taxes, as they will be considered to have verified their income.
If you are selected for verification, and you choose not to use (or are unable to use) the pre-populating IRS tool on the online FAFSA form or you subsequently correct any of the pre-populated responses that were generated by the IRS tool (except for the income earned from work questions), you will likely be required to send the school an official transcript of your return(s). See this page-this page.
The schools may also ask for documentation of social security benefits if you receive them or information about child support paid or received. You may also have to fill out a Verification Worksheet so that the colleges can double-check the number of members in your household as well as other income items.
While the IRS audits a minuscule percentage of taxpayers, financial aid verification is relatively commonplace. At some schools, 100% of the applicants are verified. Thus, if you receive a notice of verification, this does not mean that it is time to book plane tickets to a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. It is all routine.
Revising Your Information
If the numbers on the SAR are different from the numbers you sent in, you will probably want to revise them immediately. The SAR gives you instructions on how to correct errors made either by the processor or by you. You will also want to revise immediately if you receive any notice stating that your FAFSA could not be processed, if there are comments on the SAR that there were problems with the processing, or if you need to change the list of schools.
How to Update Your Estimated Figures
While the instructions to the SAR tell you how to handle revisions, these instructions may conflict with the procedures many colleges would prefer you to follow. To find out the correct way to revise your SAR you must call the FAOs at all of the colleges still under consideration. In general, the FAOs will tell you to do one of three things:
1.Revise the SAR and send the revisions to the processor. (Most likely response.)
2.Revise the SAR and send all pages of the SAR directly to the FAO.
3.Send all pages of the unrevised SAR to the FAO; he or she will make the necessary revisions.
When you call the FAOs, ask when they expect you to send them the original SAR. See if you can hold off until you know for sure what college the student will be attending. If you received the green SAR in the mail and a college requires a physical copy of the SAR before the student is sure of his educational plans, you should request a duplicate SAR for your records by calling (800) 433-3243. The duplicate SARs are free, so we suggest you call for a few duplicate copies just in case.
The question numbers on the SAR should correspond exactly to the question numbers on the FAFSA. To help you in your revisions, you can refer to your photocopy of the FAFSA and your worksheets, as well as to the detailed instructions we gave for completing each line of the FAFSA form. Most likely, you will be revising only your income, expense, and tax return information for the Base Income Year. The SAR processors prefer you to use a dark-ink ballpoint pen for any revisions on the paper SAR. The asset information should be the net asset figures at the time you completed the original FAFSA, not the net asset figures on the day you are revising. You should therefore revise your asset information only if a mistake was made when the FAFSA was originally filed. (If using the online IRS Data Retrieval Tool, see this page-this page and our tips for the FAFSA in Part 3 of this book).
After you send your SAR revisions to the processor, a new version of the SAR with the revised data will be generated. Look over the new SAR data to make sure it’s accurate.
The PROFILE Acknowledgement
After you transmit your PROFILE data to the processor you will be able to view and print out an Acknowledgment that summarizes your responses to most of the PROFILE questions. Follow the directions regarding revisions, if necessary.
Applying to More PROFILE Schools
If after transmitting the PROFILE data to the processor you decide to apply to additional schools that require the PROFILE form, you can have the data sent to the additional schools by accessing your PROFILE record with your College Board username and password. Details on how to add additional schools will then be provided. You will also have to get the FAFSA data to these schools by revising the SAR.
What to Do If You Get a Notice Saying Your Form Could Not Be Processed
Your need analysis form may get rejected for any number of reasons, but the most common are forgetting to answer one of the questions or not signing the form.
If your paper FAFSA is returned to you unprocessed, the main thing is to get it back to the need analysis company as fast as possible. Even if the screw-up was your fault, you will minimize the odds of missing out on aid if you snap into action immediately. The need analysis company will probably send an incomplete version of their report to all the colleges, so you will still be in the running. To be on the safe side, contact the individual schools to let them know what is happening.
In some cases, the need analysis companies or the government will question specific items because they are unusually low or high for a “typical family” with your income level. Don’t feel you must change a number if it is really correct. For example, if you have a negative AGI due to property rental losses, but have positive income earned from work, the computers will automatically “flag” the AGI item. If the item is correct, you may need to place a check mark next to it when revising your SAR.
As always, photocopy any new information you send to the need analysis company or to the government, and send it certified mail (return receipt requested) unless you are revising the FAFSA form online. And be sure that you follow all instructions to the letter.
If Your EFC Is Much Higher than You Expected
Somehow, no matter how prepared you are, seeing the federal EFC in print is always a shock. Remember that the colleges do not expect you to be able to pay the entire amount out of current income. If they deem your resources sufficient, they expect you to liquidate assets each year that your child is in college and they expect you to have to borrow money on top of that. Your EFC is designed to include money that you have earned in the past (assets) and money that you will obtain in the future (loans) as well as the income you are currently earning.
Remember that your family contribution could be lower or higher than the EFC printed on the SAR. This will be especially true if the school uses the institutional methodology in awarding their own aid funds. Remember also that colleges have broad latitude to change the EFC in either direction. This is where negotiation can come into play. Consult Part Four, “The Offer.” We know of one case in which the EFC was judged to be $24,000. The school brought the actual family contribution down to $13,000.
In addition, some state aid formulas differ from the federal formula. We know of another case in which the EFC was judged to be $99,999, but the family managed to receive $5,000 a year in state aid because of quirks in the state’s formula.
If you have used our worksheets to compute your federal Expected Family Contribution, you should not be surprised by the number on the SAR. If there is a large discrepancy between what you thought your EFC would be and what the SAR says it is, then someone may have made a mistake. Go through your worksheets carefully, and double-check to see that the information on the FAFSA form you filed agrees with the numbers you used in the worksheets. Also, make sure that these numbers agree with the numbers on the SAR if you filed the paper version of the FAFSA. If an error was made on the FAFSA, start revising.
The Next Step: Supplying Completed Tax Returns
Some colleges will not give you a financial aid package until they’ve seen your taxes for the first base income year. Others will give you a “tentative” package, subject to change when they see the final numbers. And some may want to see 2016 returns too!
It is in your best interest to get your taxes done as fast as possible. Prod your accountant if he is dragging his heels. Better yet, if you are not reading this book at the eleventh hour, plan ahead. During the fall of senior year in high school, let your accountant know that you are going to need your taxes done as soon as possible this year.
Find out from the colleges that you are interested in whether they really do want to see your tax return. In many cases, the answer will be yes. In a few cases (such as New York University), they will not want your tax return unless you are randomly selected for verification. We recommend that you not send a return unless it is required. Why give them more information than they need?
The most effective time for negotiation with the FAOs is before May 1, the Universal Reply Date by which most colleges require you to commit to attend. Obviously, you will have more bargaining power if you can still decide to go to another school. The FAOs are much less likely to compromise once you are committed to their college.
The School’s Own Forms
The standardized need analysis forms are probably not the only financial aid forms you will have to complete. Many selective colleges have their own forms as well with deadlines that may differ from those of both the standardized forms and the admissions applications to the schools themselves. The purpose of these forms is sometimes difficult to comprehend, since in many cases they ask many of the same questions you have already answered on the FAFSA or the PROFILE form all over again. Some counselors suspect this is done for the same reason police interrogate suspects several times: to look for discrepancies.
More Detailed Information
However, the individual forms do ask for some new information. In general, they are looking for more specific breakdowns of your income and assets. Exactly what kind of assets do you have? How liquid are they? In addition, you will often be asked about your other children’s educational plans for the current year and the year to come.
While neither the FAFSA nor the PROFILE form ask income and asset information about noncustodial parents, many of the individual schools will want to know all the financial details of that parent. Some may ask you to fill out the standardized, paper CSS/Noncustodial Parent’s Statement or the Noncustodial PROFILE (which is an online form.) If you own your own business, you may need to fill out the paper College Board’s Business/Farm Supplement. We’ll cover both of these situations in more detail in the “Special Topics” chapter of this book.
The forms may also ask questions to determine eligibility for specific restricted scholarships and grants. In general, these scholarships are left over from a different era when private citizens funded weird scholarships in their own name. The colleges hate administering these restricted scholarships—they would much rather be allowed to give money to whomever they feel like. However, if you are a direct blood descendant of a World War I veteran, the University of Chicago may have some money for you. If you can prove that one of your ancestors traveled on the Mayflower, Harvard may have some money for you. If you are of Huguenot ancestry, Bryn Mawr may have some money for you.
Take the time to be consistent. Your answers on this form may be compared to other information you’ve supplied elsewhere. Small differences, especially if you are estimating, are acceptable, but anything major will cause serious problems. Get out your photocopies of any previous aid forms you’ve completed and make sure you are not diverging.
Much as you may feel that your privacy is being invaded, do not skip any of the questions. This is the colleges’ game and they get to make the rules. If you don’t answer, they don’t have to give you any money.
Send these forms to the schools themselves, certified mail, return receipt requested. If you are sending any supplementary information (such as tax returns) make sure that the student’s name and his or her college ID # or social security number are prominently displayed on all documents. This is especially important if the student’s last name is different from either of his parents’.
The IDOC Service
Some schools may now require you to submit your income tax returns and other documents to the College Board’s IDOC service. After your documents are received by the IDOC processor, they will be scanned and then made available electronically to those schools that require them in this format. If at least one of your schools is utilizing the IDOC service, you will likely receive an email notification from the College Board. Required documents can now be either uploaded online or mailed to the IDOC service. Make sure all required signatures are provided. Finally, be extra careful that you submit the tax returns (and w-2s and / or 1099s if requested) for the correct calendar year.