4th Pathway: Be First In Line

Be first in line for the money in the "first come, first serve" world of college finance.

The steps needed to be first with financial aid and taxes:

In the December before beginning college in September, get a PIN (personal identification number) for the parent and also one for the student so you both can sign your FAFSA. In December, if you need to file the CSS financial aid profile because some of your college selections require it, complete the CSS Financial Aid Profile using estimated income numbers. Be sure to follow proven financial strategies that are customized to your financial situation. Strategies also need to be reflected in the taxes you will file in February. If there is a non-custodial parent involved, make sure he/she has completed the CSS form for the non-custodial parent.

In early January, complete the FAFSA, the federal financial aid form, using estimated income numbers. Be sure to follow proven financial strategies that are customized to your financial situation. Implemented strategies also need to be reflected in the financial aid application and taxes you will file in February. The federal financial aid application only requires the custodial parent(s) information. If you are a single parent, you will need to include spousal support and child support. You do not need to include tax and earnings information for the non-custodial parent. If you have joint custody, use the financial information from the parent where the student lives over 50% of the time. Smart parent planners, compare incomes and assets through a Financial Need Analysis in time to make sure the student lives 51% of the time with the parent who has the lowest EFC amount.

In February custodial parent(s) complete taxes and file them. This is not optional. After taxes are completed you now have actual earning amounts so you can access your student's FAFSA file using the student PIN. Adjust student and parent adjusted gross income, what parent(s) and the student earned, amount of taxes paid, and the amount parent(s) donated to retirement (see W-2). CSS financial aid forms are not updated. Those college compare estimated numbers to actual taxes. Have a copy of your taxes ready to send to your final college selection. There are a few colleges that also request taxes as a prerequisite for completing student application. If you find this personally invasive or arrogant on the part of the college, you are not alone.

Be first in line with student applications.

Best to submit applications in October and November of the senior year, nearly a full year prior to college attendance. Give the colleges a chance to look you over. Besides, nobody likes to hire the person who just barely squeaks in for the job interview at the very last minute. Teachers and counselors who write letters of recommendation get swamped with requests in November and December. A late request is seldom a good strategy for getting the glowing letter of recommendation needed. Sometimes they don't even have time to write and mail the letter. Writing an essay at the last minute doesn't allow for any extra time needed to perfect this very important essay. Remember, only one out of a hundred college essays really sells the student to the college which will reflect on college acceptance of the student and can also reflect on the size of your college award.

Once applications and letters of recommendation are sent in, make sure they all arrived and were consolidated into the student's application file. Never trust anyone else to do their job perfectly. Letters of recommendation could be lost in the mail, perhaps that overwhelmed counselor or teacher didn't send them, maybe the college received them but didn't stick them in the student file. I recommend that student or parent call each college applied to and ask if the application is complete. Sometimes this can be done on line using the student identification number assigned by that college.

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