Need FAFSA Help? Here are 6 Resources


January 1 marks the start of the FAFSA season.

If you will be applying for financial aid this year for a new or returning college student, it’s time to tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Unfortunately,  it’s easy to make mistakes on the forms and these errors could cost you a ton of money. Resources exist, however, to help you survive the process. Here are six resources to get you started:

1. Use FAFSA on the Web.

The federal government can help with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which families must complete to be eligible for need-based aid and federal student loans. The FAFSA hotline is (800) 433-3243. When you working on the FAFSA online, you can also click on the “Live Help” button.

2. Use the FAFSA Worksheet.

Completing the FAFSA will be easier if you know what documents to gather and what the questions will be in advance. That’s no problem if you use the 2014-2015 FAFSA Worksheet.  I’ve provided the link, but you can find the worksheet by heading to the FAFSA website and typing worksheet into the search box.

3. Edvisors FAFSA Guide.

I’d recommend that you check out a valuable new guide, Filing the FAFSA: The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid 2014-2014 Edition. Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized financial aid expert, and David Levy, the former financial aid director at Cal Tech and Scripps College, wrote this amazing 144-page guide. You should discover the answers that you are looking for in this guide. I’ll write more about what you can find in this resource later.

I can’t link to this guide yet because it hasn’t been released, but it will be any day now. When it’s available, there will be a prominent link on the website of Edvisors Network, which is a series of web sites about planning and paying for college. The guide will be free on Edvisor Network’s website and there will be a charge if you obtain the print or Kindle version on Amazon.

4. NerdWallet – FAFSA Community.

NerdWallet’s FAFSA Community is a new online resource that was launched in 2013 thanks to funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The site offers FAFSA guides that can help you determine who needs to file a student’s FAFSA. For many families this is a bewildering question. For instance, what if the parents are living together, but not married? Or what happens if the parents are divorced or a child is living with a guardian? FAFSA Community also has a tutorial on how to complete the FAFSA and it also can help through its FAFSA FAQ section.

5. Pay a Preparer.

Whenever I see advice about FAFSA assistance, it will inevitably include some variation of this admonition:  NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER pay anyone to complete your FAFSA or CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.

Frankly, I don’t understand why the higher-ed industry is so focused on scaring people away from getting help completing these complicated documents.  Why shouldn’t people seek out advice just as they would seek out professionals to fix their transmission or file their taxes?

The danger, as I see it is, is that you could end up paying someone an obscene amount of money for a service that should be easy for a professional. I’m afraid a lot of the guys who promote their services are snake oil salesman who are really interested in selling you annuities and life insurance. You should stay away from them.

Luckily, there is a safe and inexpensive place to get help completing the FAFSA – Student Financial Aid Services. The cost is $80 and $100 and for many people I think it would be worth it for piece of mind.

6. Take advantage of College Goal Sunday.

Scattered across the country are events scheduled to help families with their FAFSA. College Goal Sunday events are being held in dozens of states and the District of Columbia. The California Student Aid Commission (the biggest percentage of my blog visitors are from California) also offers help through its California Cash for College workshops.


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  1. Hi Lynn,
    Our family income is over 100,000. A friend told me it will be useless to apply for FAFSA. What do you think? Is there an income ceiling to the application and the Aid?

    1. Hi Lindy,

      Many people, including your friend, are confused about the FAFSA. There is no income ceiling to file the FAFSA and if you don’t file y ou won’t qualify for need-based aid, federal college loans or work study jobs. Whether you would receive need-based aid from a school with an income of $100,000 will depend on such factors as the price of the school, the marital status of the parents, the number of students in college and the generosity of the institution. It would be foolish not to apply for financial aid.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. So, FAFSA actually means Forwarding All Financial Statements AGAIN (and again for the next 4 years – or more if you have more than one student) !

    With your guidance I have to say the second year of application was much easier, and the third is even better, even if my second son is now waiting to hear on his applications for college. Any family should have you first on their list of “To Do’s” when it comes to the next step – finding the funds. Have a great success with the class!

  3. Hi Lynn,
    Maybe I’m missing something, but I just completed (not yet submitted) the FAFSA online, and it seemed pretty straightforward and easy. In fact, it didn’t even ask me the parent asset questions? Did I miss something?

      1. Hi Lynn

        “If your income is below $50,000, the FAFSA does not ask about your assets.”

        Our AGI for 2013 was $38,668 but it asked us how much we had in non IRA mutual funds. Because we had over $200,000 (our life saving) we did not receive and Cal grans or Fed grants aid. They did say we could get loans. Did we do something wrong.

        1. Patrick,

          For the Cal Grant, there is an income ceiling — you met that — but also an asset ceiling. The asset ceiling only applies to nonretirement money. So if you have this money in retirement money it would not hurt your eligibility for a Cal Grant.

          Lynn O.