Ah, the FAFSA — or, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as it’s officially known. Me, I’m dubbing it the Famously Anti-Fair Student Aid application.
When my oldest daughter was busy applying to colleges, a bit over a year ago, I remember often reading that she should fill out the FAFSA. “Millions of dollars in scholarships go unawarded each year!” I’d read in various places. “The FAFSA is the first step to becoming eligible for this free money!”
Free money? Heck, sign me up! This sounded like quite a deal. Was the FAFSA around when I went to college? Maybe, although I don’t remember it.
Anyway, since I prepare our family’s taxes each year, how much more effort could the FAFSA be, too?
I hadn’t filled out much of the FAFSA before I started getting a little annoyed. It asked for all kinds of personal information. The kicker?
“As of today, what is your parents’ total current balance of cash, savings, and checking accounts?
As of today, what is the net worth of your parents’ investments, including real estate (not your parents’ home)?”
Well then. I realized with a brief flash of horror that I would need to get my husband’s investment specifics from him. He is someone who doesn’t divulge personal information easily. I remember years ago, when we were at a local church for an AWANA event our kids were in. Afterwards, he said to me, “One guy asked where I WORKED!” He said this with a wide-eyed look of horror. I assured him that the guy was surely just trying to be friendly, but he was having none of that (I might add that he is not a CIA spy or anything remotely similar). So — convincing him that I needed the entire total of his investments was not an easy sell.
But, for the FAFSA, you’re required to disclose that. In fact, if you want to be eligible for ANY financial aid from a school whatsoever (even merit-, not need-based), you are required to fill out the FAFSA, or you’re sadly out of luck.
So many things are wrong with this. First of all, I was taught from my youth that saving was a good thing. And I’ve always been a saver — turning down this and that temptation that life throws my way, because I need to save my money for church, for retirement, you name it. To now have that saving used against me and my kids by the Feds seems like a slap in the face.
The randomness of not including the value of one’s home is odd, too. So, according to the government, if I bought a million dollar home and therefore have that much less in savings, I’m more able to finance a kid’s college education than someone who has saved their money and lives in a more modest house? This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
At a financial aid meeting at the school last year, one parent asked about FAFSA’s curious phrasing: “as of TODAY.” “So,” the guy asked, “what if I withdrew all the money from my accounts today … and then re-deposited it tomorrow?” The session leader grinned. “Well … it does say ‘as of today’,” he answered.
I’m not into doing shady stuff like that, but honestly, I can understand the appeal. Who’s to say a bunch of wealthy people with financial advisers aren’t doing that very thing — and thereby qualifying their kids for federal financial aid?
As to all the scholarship money the FAFSA was allegedly going to open up for us, we saw nothing. Nada. Not one penny. In fact, our “expected parental contribution” was way beyond any annual salary I’ve ever made.
And this is frustrating. Not just to me, either.
I financed much of my own college educations. I expect my kids to pay for part of theirs, too. But, the FAFSA doesn’t take this into account at all. My daughter, who is now in her 2nd semester at college, has said how it feels a bit unfair that some kids she knows have gotten so much financial aid that it more than covers the cost of their college attendance. The extra is deposited into their bank accounts each month. Meanwhile, my daughter heads off to work while they’re ordering pizza and watching movies. It does feel a bit galling, I would imagine.
Then again, maybe it’s good preparation for life?
How about you? Any FAFSA horror stories? Or maybe you’ve hit the FAFSA jackpot? Spout off in the comments. I’d love to hear your perspective. Now if you’ll excuse me — I need to start working on this year’s FAFSA.