(BPT) - What do parents of toddlers and parents of high school students have in common? Both worry about paying for college. With the constantly rising costs of higher education, financial aid becomes more important than ever for making the dream of a college education possible. So if you're interested in receiving financial aid, where should you start?
'The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is your gateway to money for college from both the federal and state governments for most colleges and universities,' says Mark Kantrowitz, author of 'Filing the FAFSA' and 'Secrets to Winning a Scholarship.' 'Filing the FAFSA correctly is crucial, as it has a direct effect on how much money you receive from various types of financial aid.'
College Ave Student Loans partnered with Kantrowitz to offer top tips for maximizing your need-based financial aid for college:
1. Save strategically
When it comes to covering the cost of college, financial aid should be at the forefront of your mind, whether you're ready to file the FAFSA right now or not. It's best to save money for college in a parent's name, rather than the student's, as the FAFSA assesses money in the parent's name at a much lower rate. Every $10,000 in student assets reduces aid eligibility by $2,000, while every $10,000 in parent assets only reduces eligibility by up to $564.
2. File early
The earlier you file the FAFSA, the better. Right now, you should file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after Jan. 1, but starting in 2017, you can start as early as Oct. 1. Ten states award aid on a first come, first served basis, and 12 have hard deadlines in February and March. Specific schools can also have specific deadlines, and students who file early may qualify for more aid. So, as a rule of thumb, file the FAFSA in January to maximize your eligibility.
3. Minimize income in the base year
Using income and tax information from a previous year, or base year, the FAFSA calculates the financial strength of your family. Because the formula is heavily weighted on income, it's a good idea to reduce your income in the base year. If you can, avoid realizing capital gains. If you must sell stocks, bonds or other investments, try to offset capital gains with losses. Taking retirement plan distributions during the base year will also count as income.
4. Reduce reportable assets
Minimize your money in the bank by using it to pay credit card and loan debts. This not only makes good financial planning sense, but may help you qualify for more aid.
5. Maximize the number of children in college at the same time
Something as simple as having more than one child in college can dramatically increase your changes of receiving more financial aid. While you can't change the ages of your children, you can use this impact on aid eligibility as a deciding factor when determining whether to allow your child to skip a grade.
6. Seek generous and low-cost colleges
There are many generous colleges, including some in the Ivy League, which implement 'no loans' financial aid policies. This means they replace loans with grants in the student's need-based financial aid package. Additionally, in-state public colleges are likely to be your least expensive option, especially after subtracting gift aid, grants and scholarships.
7. Organize your documents and information
Filing the FAFSA is all about the details. Pay attention and stay organized to get the job done right, starting by filing the FAFSA for the correct year and staying on top of deadlines. Make sure to use the right Social Security Number, date or birth, marital status and correct financial information. Follow the instructions and fill out the forms as carefully as possible to get the most accurate results.
Once you receive your financial aid award letter and assess your savings, you'll have time to consider taking out a loan. If you need it, find a simple option that works for you, such as College Ave Student Loans.
Navigating the world of financial aid can be tricky, so follow these tips to maximize your eligibility and make college a reality. For more information and resources, visit collegeavestudentloans.com.