The Fury of Financial Aid

by : Moneyalert

Make sure to use your PIN to check the SAR on your FAFSA and see if your EFC will qualify you for a PELL grant.

Say what?

If you're having trouble navigating your way through the modern financial aid system, you're not alone. Finding, applying and receiving different types of financial aid can be one of the biggest headaches associated with college-bound children or grandchildren. But it doesn't have to be that way.

With only a little know-how and some financial planning, you can easily find your way through the maze known as financial aid. The confusion above can disappear with just a small amount of studying. (Besides, your kids are expected to study hard the next few years, so you should set a good example!) One of the most crucial pieces of advice that college planners have to offer is to ALWAYS apply for financial aid, even if you believe you won't qualify.

So how do you apply for it? Simple. It's a form called FAFSA and it can be filled out quickly and easily online. When you apply, you are given a PIN, which functions just like a PIN that a bank gives you. You use this PIN to log on to and off of your forms and sign them when you are finished.

The most basic financial aid to fill out in the United States is nicknamed FAFSA, one of many acronyms I'll tell you about. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Student Financial Aid. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and for years has given lower income students a chance to go to college. But it's not just for lower income families. Anyone and everyone can apply and depending on how soon you apply and the money available, families with many different levels of income can receive some type of aid.

It is recommended that every family fills out a FAFSA form as well as the financial aid forms required by the schools you have applied for. Each school will put together a financial aid award package based on the results of your FAFSA form.

FAFSA forms have a mathematical formula which determines your EFC. EFC stands for Estimated Family Contribution. It is the amount of money a family is expected to contribute towards a child's education. This number does not represent how much the family can afford, but rather what they believe you should be able to afford. This may require you to take out an extra loan as a family or withdraw savings, but the number helps decide how much aid you are eligible to receive. Your EFC is given to you when you submit your FAFSA. It is located on your SAR.

The SAR is your Student Aid Report and it's a summary of all the answers and information you've entered into the FAFSA form. You always want to print a copy of your SAR to keep for your own records. That way, when you fill out the individual school financial aid forms, your information will be consistent.

Once your school receives your information, they will put together a financial aid package and present it to you. Your package can contain a wide variety of options for you to choose from, including grants, loans, and scholarships. If your EFC is low, you may be offered a PELL Grant. Pell's are grants that help pay for college and do not need to be paid back.

Your financial aid package may also include an option of work-study, where your child can work at a campus job and make extra money. Most packages also include a variety of loan options. Some loans are government-subsidized others are not. There are many different types of loans available to parents and students and you should analyze your current financial situation carefully before choosing one. Government subsidized loans are offered interest-free while your student is in school, and allow the student to wait until six months after college graduation to pay back the principal. However, there is a limit to how much you can borrow and you must complete your degree by a certain date, so make sure you plan wisely.

So the next time someone asks if you used your PIN to check the SAR on your FAFSA to see if you are eligible for a PELL, you can reply with a resounding and confident "Yes!"

I hope I've been able to guide you through the maze of financial aid and shed some light on the whole process. It can be intimidating to say the least, but with a little work, the whole process may be transformed into one of the most rewarding college planning experiences you will have- literally.