Debunking the FAFSA Myth

By: Keith Tuomi

With the plethora of big-business entities jockeying for the money of students on the path to becoming well-to-do responsible consumers with a house, car, and 1.5 children, it's often missed that the US Government is the first place to start when planning student finances.

Scholarships, traineeships, fellowships, loans: Uncle Sam is nothing if not prolific in the diversity of programs available. For most students, the acroynm FAFSA is their first encounter with the cold hard seriousness of bureaucratic forms, most commonly dealt with before the dreaded and stereotypically cryptic IRS forms such as the 1040.

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a free form and free service provided by the Department of Education. If you do not fill it in you will not be eligible for federal (government-backed) student loans. However, you will still be eligible for private, or alternative student loans.

Almost every school sets its own deadline for when the different forms of financial aid are due. Some may be as early as the second week of January and some have no deadlines at all. It is strongly recommended to check with your own school's financial aid office to find out exactly when your deadlines may fall.

In order to meet a "Transaction Receipt Date" deadline for your college, it is recommended to submit to us at least 2 weeks prior to the published deadline to insure submission.

There are a myriad of large, well-oiled companies that will gladly take your money and 'process' your FAFSA application on your behalf. The fees for this service typically range from $50 to $100. You could also go with a private accountant, however the 'personal touch' will of course usually cost you more.

Wait! Do you really want to start your experience with Government forms as one of resignation that no, you are really not bright or organized enough to be able to fill it in yourself? Learning to 'do it yourself' with the Government can be not only a satisfying but potentially educational experience that will teach you the skills that many self-made millionares taught themselves: relying on an accountant or anonymous firm does nothing except save you some time, and in fact with big-ticket money decisions who is to say that your 'assistants' are not putting their interests before yours?

Just as their are firms such as H&R Block that will open up retail outlets in your neighorhood every year at tax time, there are companies that specialize in FAFSA applications. Now, as with the majority of tax returns, the FAFSA is anything but rocket science. It is simply a matter of making sure you know all your variables and where to write it on the form. For companies who perform this work day in day out, your financial future is simply an algorithm which is input and output in moments. They typically spend more printing the paper for your documents and checks then they do in any actual 'labor'.

SO, consider tackling the FAFSA yourself. Just like learning to do your taxes on your own, a few hours spent researching how to do the forms ONCE will enable you to conquer them the next time, and you can even make money on the side on campus teaching others how to complete such forms.

Here is the Government's central page for the FAFSA. Everything you need to know is here and studying all the resources here WILL let you fill in this form without errors, and without giving your money away:

http://studentaid.ed.gov/students/publications/student_guide/2003_2004/english/general-applying.htm#renewal

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