Advice from Parents about FAFSA Filing

October 7, 2022

Advice from Parents about FAFSA Filing

Financial aid advisors and admissions officers are the leading resources when it comes to college tuition costs and aid. At least…  in theory. On one hand, aid and admissions staff know how to connect a student and their family to federal, state, and institutional aid. On the other hand, they don’t actually file FAFSA, CSS profiles, or co-sign on student loans.

And speaking of filing FAFSA, there are a few insider tips that might not come from college and university staff. What’s the most underutilized resource when it comes to financial aid advice? Other parents.

From Reddit to Facebook, parents (and students) rely on forums to see what works and what doesn’t for those in similar situations. Unsurprisingly, some of the most reliable and insightful feedback on college finance comes from those who have already survived college finance or are in the thick of it.

If you need advice on FAFSA filing from people on the ground, take a few shortcuts with the tips and tricks below. All discussions are pulled from Facebook’s Paying for College 101 group, which was started by Road2College back in 2015.

With FAFSA opening soon on October 1st, would love to hear insights from anyone that has filed the FAFSA before.

  1. What do you know now that you wish someone had told you beforehand?
  2. What part of the financial aid process was harder or easier than expected?

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • Save all IDs and login details for FAFSA and IRS accounts, as you’ll need them often when filing.
  • The IRS offers a service that auto-fills out the FAFSA based on a parent’s tax return, but some information might be incorrectly allocated—especially for self-employed people. If you own an LLC and/or have multiple forms of income, it’s best to manually enter all information.
  • The vast majority of NPCs don’t factor in every necessary detail of a student’s financial aid outlook. Many families end up receiving more aid than they thought they would. Don’t cross off any schools from your list (for financial reasons) until you have an accurate estimate.

I’m trying to do my first FAFSA, every time I try to do the IRS import it says my FSA ID isn’t correct. I’ve literally changed my password and verified the ID. I’m about to lose my mind over this!

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • Verify that you’re using the correct login for your FSA ID. You might be trying to log in as a student instead of a parent.
  • Check back tomorrow and try again. Sometimes, the system gets overloaded—especially in October.
  • Update all financial information if you’ve gone through a divorce in the last year. You will need to re-enter any personal changes, including last name updates.

Just did FAFSA. Our EFC came in at 65% of our income. Is that normal? I’m hoping I made a mistake.

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • Keep in mind that EFCs are used by schools that require a CSS Profile. They don’t show what someone owes, just how their income is indexed. In other words, EFC is used to classify different income tiers.
  • A high EFC is usually due to retirement savings and other assets. The average EFC isn’t more than 30% of income.
  • Check for extra digits if you filled out your form manually. It’s fairly common to add an extra 0 by mistake…

On the FAFSA does a timeshare have to be declared as an asset? It is currently worthless as I cannot sell it, is the market value zero?.

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • Equity in any/all real estate must be reported, including timeshares. The value is not 0.
  • Ask your city or local council to value the timeshare for an accurate number. Companies like Zillow inflate prices.
  • Property is considered a secondary asset that must be reported on FAFSA—but cars, boats, jet skis, and other vacation-related items do not need to be reported on FAFSA.

I just found out our 529 balance so I can fill out the FAFSA. We have lost about 25% this year. Are you all leaving your 529's alone or are you moving it to protect the principal?

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • Consider contributing on an ongoing basis to avoid locking in losses. For some, it makes sense to continue to ‘buy’ while 529 credits are still ‘on sale’.
  • Others have stopped contributing to their 529 contributions and are instead purchasing bonds and/or stockpiling cash savings to cover initial costs. This also gives their 529 plan time to recuperate.
  • Others have transferred 1/4 of 529 funds to safer accounts to ride out the recession.

At what age did you guys open your child’s 529?

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • Some started their 529s shortly after their child was born. Others said they waited too long and advise other parents to open an account immediately.
  • Some, including single-parent households, didn’t start 529 plans at all. Instead, they funnel their savings into an IRA Roth that lets them take out money for college without a penalty and functions as a retirement savings plan.
  • Some parents have children who earned full scholarships—which means they have 529 plans and nowhere to channel the funds. In these cases, a 529 fund can be used for graduate school or can be shared with immediate family and certain extended family.

I’m sure this question has been asked many times, but what’s literally the first place you would go to start looking for scholarship money?

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • FAFSA applications automatically connect your child to federal aid opportunities, such as the PELL Grant. No extra effort needed.
  • High-value scholarships are available at an institutional and local level—start there. Look for scholarships that are offered by the schools your child is interested in, then branch out to look for local scholarship opportunities from businesses, city councils, and more.
  • High school counselors are a great resource, as they understand your student’s academic outlook and the colleges they’re targeting.

Are there any families besides ours that kids are average students, no sports, and are on the search for schools? I just don’t see a lot of kids without an extensive resume and feel nervous.

Here’s the best advice from top comments:
  • You aren’t alone! Many parents were surprised by how many academic programs are available for students with average-level GPAs.
  • Extensive resumes aren’t always what is most important. Many parents seek to foster curiosity in their children so they can find a career that suits their interests and makes them happy in the long-term.
  • Don’t forget about trade schools. Trade schools offer programs on plumbing, electrical, and welding, to name a few. Not only are these jobs in high demand, but some students are more suited for a tactical and hands-on learning experience.

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