Colleges often require a FAFSA to be submitted by an early deadline to give them the most time to have it processed, and to ensure that you are eligible for the maximum financial aid available.
The FAFSA is also based solely on the financial information from the previous tax year. For example, the Fall 2011 semester will use the 2011-2012 FAFSA, but it will use you and your parent’s 2010 tax information.
With the volatile economy we all live in, it should come as no surprise that many families financial situation has changed, some drastically (loss of job, other reduction in income), since the 2010 taxes were filed and the 2011-2012 FAFSA was submitted.
If you find yourself in this situation, please know that you have the right to appeal your financial aid directly to your college financial aid office.
All college financial aid offices are free, by federal law, to develop their own procedure for their appeal processes. Many colleges will call them a “professional judgement” while others might call them an appeal, or a review. The basic concept, is that your financial aid will be re-evaluated to better reflect your current financial situation.
Since there is not one name to request, please explain to your financial aid advisor that your financial situation has changed drastically since you filed your taxes and FAFSA, and that you would like your financial aid to be re-evaluated.
Please be aware that this process can often times be lengthy, and is not guaranteed. The financial aid advisor who manages these “professional judgements” will have the power to approve or deny your request.
That is why it is very important to plead your case, and to come prepared when you meet with them.
What to Bring
The documents that you will need to bring can vary widely depending on your situation, but I will give you a quick list of the items that you absolutely must bring with you when you visit your financial aid office:
- 2010 Federal tax returns for parents and students if they filed
- All 2010 W-2 forms
- All appropriate tax schedules (C, D, E, K-1)
- Proof of reduction in income (ie. letter verifying loss of job)
- Documentation of excessive medical bills (Typically over $10,000)
- Documentation of a one-time lump sum disbursement that was included on the tax return (IRA disbursement, 401K withdrawal, Life Insurance benefit)
Once you have met with your college financial aid counselor and submitted all of your paperwork, you will now, unfortunately, have to wait. Depending on the time of year that you submit your appeal, it might take up to 4 – 6 weeks to process your request.
However, the end result is that your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) could lower. Your EFC is the calculation that is used to determine how much money for college you qualify for. This means, that you might qualify for more need-based grants such as the Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study, or FSEOG.
You also may qualify for a Subsidized Stafford loan as opposed to an Unsubsidized Stafford loan, if your EFC is lowered.
Once again, this process is not guaranteed, but I highly recommend it if you are struggling to figure out how you will pay for college as your family’s finances have taken a turn for the worse!
Have you ever gone through this process in the past?
What advice would you have for someone going through this?
Photo used under Flickr Creative Commons: John – Morgan