March is nearly here, and the end of the school year is in sight. If you have a high school senior at home, that means you have just a few short months to figure out how you’re going to pay for college.
A little more than half of parents of eighteen year-olds have saved for college. The average savings for those who have it is $28,000, about enough to cover the full cost of one year at a public university. Most students will turn to debt to pay for at least some of their education.
Debt among eighteen to twenty-nine year-olds is at a ten year high, thanks mostly to growing student loan debt. Yet many students are missing out on valuable financial aid because they failed to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
About a third of students who don’t file the FAFSA are eligible for Federal Pell grants, which is financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Of those who would have qualified for the grant, half could have gotten the maximum amount, which was over $6,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.
Nearly half of private student loan borrowers could have qualified for lower cost federal loans had they filed the FAFSA. And the FAFSA isn’t just for federal aid. State and college financial aid programs and many private scholarships rely on information from the FAFSA.
The biggest reason sited for not submitting the FAFSA was that families thought they weren’t eligible for aid. Some form of financial aid is available to anyone with an annual household income of $250,000 or less. Only about 5 percent of American families don’t qualify for any form of financial aid.
And financial aid is available beyond traditional four year institutions. If you have your eye on a community college or certificate program you may still be eligible for financial aid.
Timing is important. Some forms of aid are granted to the eligible that apply first, and when the money is gone, it isn’t available again until the next school year. Some grants and scholarships have early deadlines. But if you haven’t filed your FAFSA yet it isn’t too late. There are still options open.
Applying for financial aid can seem daunting. The FAFSA asks for a lot of information. Often you’ll need to fill out supplementary forms for financial aid or scholarships beyond the aid available from the Federal government. You might think it isn’t worth it.
But if you think in terms of your hourly rate to apply, it might seem more worthwhile. Say you find an opportunity for $1,000 in government or private aid or scholarships. If you put in four hours of work to get it, that’s an hourly rate of $250. Most don’t make that in their professional jobs.
College is too expensive to assume you can’t get some help with it. Fill out the FAFSA annually. If it’s too late to get some forms of aid for this fall, you may still qualify in the following year. Most don’t have the luxury of fully paying for their children’s education, but help is available if you file the form.
For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security. It is now available on Amazon.