Debunking 5 myths about college financial aid

For one thing, you need to fill out the FAFSA form — regardless of family income.

With three children in college, I’m very familiar with the financial-aid process. I’d rather get a root canal.

My husband and I saved just enough for them all to attend college without any debt for tuition, fees and room and board. Any extra money they’ve received in scholarships or grants helps stretch what we’ve saved to cover other college expenses.

But it wasn’t a painless process. Filling out the scholarship applications and the federal and state forms is, frankly, overwhelming.

Starting Oct. 1, the 2019/20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) becomes available. Whether your child will be applying for early admission to college or is a returning student, you need to make sure the form is completed as soon as possible. Procrastinating can cost you money.

With limited funds, it’s a first-come, first-served financial-aid world, folks. Those who file early get a better shot at receiving funds — both need- and merit-based.

Despite how daunting the process can be, I’m surprised that so many parents and students fail to file a FAFSA, believing it doesn’t matter. So, let’s debunk five myths that keep people from filing.

1. Our family makes too much money, so why bother? If you’re a middle-income or higher-earning household, it’s easy to dismiss the need to complete the FAFSA. I nearly did. Yet the form is not just for free federal money, such as the Pell Grant or work-study. To qualify for state, school and private scholarships, you may need to fill out the FAFSA.

Additionally, having multiple children attending college simultaneously can impact your expected family contribution or EFC, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president for savingforcollege.com. “The parent contribution portion of the EFC is divided by the number of children in college,” he said. “When the number of children in college increases from one to two, that’s almost like dividing parent income in half.”

2. My credit history is bad, so we won’t qualify for financial aid. There’s no credit check for most federal student loans.

3. Are you kidding? My kid’s grades are awful, so why bother applying? Your child will have to do well enough to stay in school, but he or she doesn’t have to be academically gifted to qualify for financial aid.

4. I don’t want my child to have loans, so why apply? Yes, for many people, the financial aid offered will come in the form of either subsidized or unsubsidized federal loans. While I’m always cautioning people about borrowing for college, the reality is many will need to do it. But your child could qualify for grants or work-study.

“More than 2 million students did not get a Federal Pell Grant even though they were eligible because they did not file the FAFSA,” Kantrowitz said.

If you’re going to borrow, you might as well see if you qualify for a direct subsidized loan. It’s offered to students who demonstrate need. The government pays the interest on the debt while the student is enrolled at least part-time or while the loan is in deferment.

Interest is not paid for unsubsidized loans. There is no requirement to demonstrate need for an unsubsidized loan.

“Everybody should file the FAFSA every year, even if they got nothing other than loans last year,” Kantrowitz said. “Congress tinkers with the financial aid formulas every year. Various tables have annual inflationary adjustments. The family’s financial circumstances may have changed. Even small changes in income and assets can have a big impact on the amount of financial aid.”

5. It’s just too much work. OK, this one is partly true. Although the official site for the FAFSA — fafsa.ed.gov — claims it’s a quick process, my family didn’t find that to be the case. Yet it wasn’t overly burdensome, especially considering the reward. Filling out the FAFSA isn’t hard. It’s just tedious.

In filling out the form, you’ll have to include earnings, which you can easily get through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). The DRT allows you to import your tax information directly into the FAFSA form. But I had to go hunt for my tax return and W-2 anyway, because the tool doesn’t pull through all the information you’ll need.

Two of my children got merit aid because we filled out the FAFSA, and the other was offered unsubsidized loans. In the end, whatever time it took was well worth the effort.

— Washington Post Writers Group

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

The 214-foot tall cranes work to unload their first cargo shipments at South Terminal at the Port of Everett on Thursday, April 8, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Renovated Port of Everett terminal gets first cargo customer

The 655-foot Westwood Columbia is the first ship to call at the newly upgraded South Terminal dock.

Project Roxy is a proposed 2.8 million square foot distribution center that would be built on a 75-acre parcel at the Cascade Industrial Center. The rendering depicts the proposed project at 4620 172nd Street in Arlington from a northwest perspective.
1,000 jobs: Amazon to open distribution center in Arlington

The company is the tenant behind Project Roxy, a $355 million building at the Cascade Industrial Center.

Garry Clark, the new CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
At a tough time, a new CEO leads local economic development

Garry Clark has taken the helm at Economic Alliance Snohomish County, where job one is pandemic recovery.

Kathy Coffey (left) and Courtney Wooten
Leadership Snohomish County offers racial equity conference

The fifth annual day-long Step Up: Moving Racial Equity Forward will be held online on April 30.

FILE- In this Sept. 30, 2020, file photo, a Boeing 737 Max jet, piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson, prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle. Boeing says it has informed 16 of its customers that they should address a possible electrical issue in certain 737 Max aircraft before using them further. Boeing said Friday, April 9, 2021, that the recommendation was made “to allow for verification that a sufficient ground path exists for a component of the electrical power system.” (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing: possible electrical issue in some 737 Max aircraft

The company said that the new problem was unrelated to the flight-control system.

Aerospace supplier with Everett site files for bankruptcy

Wichita-based TECT Aerospace filed for Chapter 11 and plans to sell an Everett manufacturing facility.

Edmonds grocery store workers may soon earn hazard pay

Some employers are required to increase wages by $4 an hour, the city council voted Tuesday.

What local firms are doing to promote diversity and equity

Here’s how some of Snohomish County’s biggest companies and organizations say they are making a difference.

Boeing President Ron Woodard, fifth from left, breaks ground with Boeing officials to make way for the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group Headquarters Office Building at the Longacres Park site in Renton Wash. Wednesday, May 14, 1997. (AP Photo/Loren Callahan)
For sale: Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes headquarters in Renton

A large warehouse on the Bomarc property in Everett also is for sale.

Snehal Patel, Global Head of Cell Therapy Manufacturing at Bristol Myers Squibb, stand outside the facility on Monday, March 29, 2021 in Bothell, Washington. A Bristol Myers Squibb facility in Bothell is one of four facilities in the United States where the company supercharges a person's T-cells to better fight blood cancers. The facility uses a virus  -- a viral delivery system -- to add punch to an individual's T-cells. The T-cells are then returned to the person better-equipped to destroy cancer cells.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Cancer patients nationwide send their blood cells to Bothell

At a Bristol Myers Squibb lab, the cells are altered and returned to patients fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, shares a scene from the March 4, 2019 opening of the commercial airline terminal at Paine Field during a Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce virtual gathering on March 17, 2021. From a screenshot.
Passenger service at Paine Field is gradually bouncing back

Terminal operator Propeller Airports foresees a possible upswing by June as air travel rebounds.

Terrie Battuello (Port of Everett)
Port of Everett economic director to join Economic Alliance

Terry Battuello will fill a newly created economic development position at the public-private nonprofit.