How To Get Financial Aid —
Simple Strategies For Every Situation!

Week 6 of 12

This is not a good time to be the parent of a college-age kid. With a giant federal budget deficit and many states in financial difficulties, colleges around the country have found that the only way to get all the money they need is to ramp up tuition fees to levels never seen before—in other words, to fleece parents. Whatever budget you might have been thinking about to pay for your child’s education, there’s a good chance that you’re going to have to think again.

College tuition isn’t like any other major expense. If the price of plane tickets goes up, you can put off your vacation until the situation improves. If interest rates go up, you wait another year or two before upgrading your car. But as soon as your child finishes high school, he or she is going to want to go to college, just like his or her friends. That’s what your child has been working towards and that’s what he or she deserves.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to tell your child that his or her life plans are going to have to be put on hold until the economic situation improves or the state doles out more cash to the colleges. There are a number of strategies available that can help you pick up all the financial aid you need, no matter how hard the colleges try to make it for you. At the very least, with the right advice, you should be able to take a significant amount of pain out of the annual budget. In fact, make the right moves now, and you might even find it easy to pick up all the help you need.

These eight strategies will always help even when the colleges hike their fees:

1. Choose The Right Schools

It always makes sense to choose schools that have good financial aid packages. When a college’s fees are high, it becomes even more important.

When states hit financial trouble, one of the first things they do is turn off the spigot that pours cash into public colleges. They expect parents to open their wallets instead. That means the private schools that don’t rely on public funds can suddenly look a lot cheaper in comparison—and more importantly, they usually have much better scholarship programs and funding packages available, especially the free grants that never have to be paid back. When you draw up your list of schools, take another look at the private schools and try to include some that have great funding available. You might find it’s the easiest way to give your child an excellent and affordable education.

2. Change The Program

When you were trying to figure out how much your child’s education was going to cost, you were probably thinking of a four-year program at a college or university. But that’s not the only way your child can pick up a college degree. There are ways to change the program to bring down your child’s college fees.

For example, the first year at most colleges are pretty much the same. All those 101 and 102 courses start with the basics and build a foundation for the following years. Your child will get exactly the same knowledge whether he or she is at a state school, a private school or low-cost community college. That means you could start your child at a community college for the first year and then upgrade in the second, saving you thousands on those first-year expenses.

Another option is to have your child take classes in the summers. Summer classes could make it possible to finish his or her degree a year early, save you a year of college bills and head out into the workforce a year before his or her peers.

Finally, you could encourage your child to combine work with study. That would probably add a year to the program but would allow your child to contribute to his or her own tuition bills and send him or her into the employment market with experience and independence already under his or her belt—an asset in these competitive times.

Not all of these different programs will be right for your child—some require discipline, others a willingness to stay in town after high school graduation—but they’re all worth looking at with your child to see which can work for you and how much money you can save.

3. Arrange Your Money

The amount of college aid you receive will depend on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC will be determined by your financial situation. That means that applying for financial aid is a little like paying your taxes. You want to make sure that when the powers-that-be pour over your financial situation, everything is arranged so that you have to pay the least amount possible.

You wouldn’t dream of filing your tax return without first talking to an accountant to see what you can claim and where you can get the most write-offs. Look at the college financial aid forms the same way and discuss your situation with a college planning expert. Remember, the figures you present could have repercussions for the next four years and beyond. It pays to get it right from the beginning.

We’d be happy to help you present the best case possible to the financial aid administration. Give us a call at (908) 857-4200 and ask us to help you maximize your awards!

4. Take Care When Filling Forms

This year, you’re going to find yourself filling out seemingly endless amounts of forms. There are college application forms and scholarship forms, FAFSA forms and Profile forms. You name it, there’s a form for it, and you’ll have to fill it out. And you’ll have to fill it out correctly.

When you’re looking at the fifth form of the month, it’s just too easy to make a slip, enter the wrong figure in the wrong box and blow your chances of picking up the cash you deserve. Believe me; you don’t want to be in the position of having to tell your child that he or she can’t go to college this year because you messed up!

Financial aid is not just awarded to those who need it most. It’s awarded to those who ask for it first. If you feel pressured by the huge mass of forms, if you think you might miss a deadline or make a mistake, ask us to help. It could be the difference between a huge college bill and a very generous award.

5. Turn Problems Into Solutions

It’s not just colleges and state governments that can suddenly find themselves strapped for cash. Parents too, can unexpectedly find themselves out of work, losing a major client or with large medical bills to pay that put huge new pressure on their ability to pay college fees.

If you find that your economic situation has changed for the worse, don’t just look at the dark side. That change could have a dramatic effect on your college financial aid application, making you eligible to receive more funds. Even if you already have a child benefiting from a college aid award, it’s always worth talking to a financial aid officer about any changes to your economic situation to see if you can’t reduce your EFC and put your finances back on an even keel.

6. Make The Most Of Your Assets

Very few families can afford to pay for college tuition without some form of help. Even high-earners often have very little spare cash to pay an extra thirty or forty thousand dollars or more each year to send a child or two to a top private school. And lower income families frequently struggle even after receiving a generous award.

The fact is, the help you receive from the financial aid administration is rarely enough to see you through four years of tuition bills, and most families have to come up with creative solutions to find the extra money they need.

Now, there are lots of loans available and all sorts of ways to do that but we’ve found one method that’s proven highly effective for the particular difficulties faced by parents of college-age children. This method doesn’t work for everyone. But if it works for you, you could easily find yourself able to pay for your child’s tuition without raiding your pension or cutting back your lifestyle and do it all on a tax-favored basis. Sound good? Give us a call at (908) 857-4200 and let us figure out whether you can benefit from this truly helpful financing plan.

7. Change Your Status

When you file your tax return, there are all sorts of strategies you can use to keep your income looking low and your rebates high. There’s nothing illegal or immoral about them. It’s just a matter of how you can answer the questions honestly, but in a way that keeps your money in your pocket instead of Uncle Sam’s.

I’ve already mentioned the importance of doing the exact same thing when you apply for financial aid. One method you can use is to change your tax status to “independent contractor.” Obviously, if you’re an employee of a large company then this isn’t going to work for you, but if you work for a very small business, then changing your status from employee to contractor could let you use Schedule C, “Profit or Loss From Business.” That would allow you to make bigger deductions, lowering your gross income and reducing your EFC.

There’s a whole range of different tactics that you can use to minimize your EFC and we are happy to help.

8. Get Expert Help!

When it comes to financial aid, no two families are the same. Every family has different needs, incomes and expenses. And every family needs individual, personal advice about the best way to meet the demands of the next few years.

We’ve helped all kinds of families qualify for financial aid. That includes families with low-income and parents with six-figure salaries. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, or how much you spend. What matters most is the help you get when you apply.

And this is the time to get it. Give us a ring today at (908) 857-4200, and ask us for your 1 hour Diagnostic Evaluation. It’s a completely free, no obligation appointment and it will give you complete overview of the whole financial aid process and insight on what you can expect in your childs future and current college years.

Until next week…

Ian Welham, CCPS
Certified College Planning Specialist
(908) 857-4200

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