Over the weekend, I vacationed in Antigua and met a couple on a boat ride. Of course, we asked each other what brought us to the island; “Where are you from?” and, “What do you do?” Once I told this couple that I educate students and families on how to make the best-informed decisions around financing post-secondary education, they immediately began telling me the things they have done to help their children get into college. One alarming thing they told me was that they paid an expert to do the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they didn’t believe they could fill it out themselves. Both parents were business owners, and they were worried that they wouldn’t qualify for any financial aid. As a result, they figured it would be best to pay someone to fill out the FAFSA accurately, in hopes of securing more aid.
The fact is, the first word in FAFSA is “FREE.” Therefore, you do not need to pay anyone to fill out your FAFSA. I understand that the tax information section on the FAFSA can be confusing and take more time to complete. However, the FAFSA has the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) embedded within the application. Once you get to the tax section of the FAFSA, it will ask if you would like to proceed with using the DRT. If so, it will automatically link your taxes for you, once you answer the IRS security questions. Using the DRT helps ensure fast data entry, and that you receive the right amount of financial aid.
If you complete the FAFSA using the DRT, the application shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes, as the tax information is the most tedious part. The information represented in the tax information will help determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is known as the annual amount that the government expects you and your parent(s) to be able to pay toward your college education.
Remember, the first word of FAFSA is FREE! So, save your money, and do not pay anyone to complete this application for you. During this process, it is critical to protect your information from third-party servicers, as you never know what they will do with your personal information. Furthermore, this application is a representation of your family’s situation, and if you try to manipulate the application by providing inaccurate tax information to gain more aid, it can result in potential jail time.
For more information, check out my new book How to Pay for College When You’re Broke.
Jessica Brown, CEO of College Gurl, has been helping students, parents, and guardians successfully navigate the seas of financial aid at post-secondary institutions as a financial aid administrator at various universities. She is also the author of How to Pay for College When You’re Broke. For more information on College Gurl, please visit www.collegegurl.com or follow College Gurl on Instagram and Twitter @collegegurljb.