The Eight Worst College Financial Aid Mistakes – Avoid Them

With college costs rising faster than inflation and financial aid shrinking, you can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to sending your child(ren) to college. If you do… it will definitely cost thousands, even then of thousands of dollars per child. Now if you have an extra $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 sitting around and don’t mind giving it to a college… then this article isn’t for you. For all others… Please read carefully!

Going to college can be a very complex and stressful time for many families. Especially with your first child that begins the process. While it may get easier with each child, if you make any of the following mistakes, it will cost you money.

If you are fortunate enough to be reading this while your oldest child is still in middle school or just entering high school, then you should have plenty of time to methodically make the most out of the college financial aid process. If your child is about ready to graduate or already in college, then you better get started right now and plan to spend some quality time making the adjustments necessary.

Eight Mistakes That will Cost You Plenty

Mistake 1: Not Starting Early Enough: The main reason families make costly mistakes during the financial aid process is that they wait until the last-minute and are rushed. If you start early and plan your steps on a timeline, you will be ready and prepared to take full advantage of the process.

Mistake 2: Not Paying Attention To Deadlines: Another big mistake is missing a financial aid deadline. If you don’t file the right forms with the right departments before the required deadline, you lose the opportunity to get the financial aid for that semester and generally cannot reapply until the following semester.

Mistake 3: Not Filing The FAFSA: The dreaded first-time FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) isn’t as bad as most families believe it is, but if you never file it, you are guaranteed to be overlooked by the financial aid system. Most colleges require the FAFSA to be filed, even if you will not qualify for Federal aid, just so they can offer you any private scholarships, grants or endowment opportunities. So always file the FAFSA.

Mistake 4: Not Utilizing EFC Reduction Strategies: Every applicant that applies to college and requests financial aid will have an Estimated Family Contribution or EFC calculated based on the financial information that is provided. If you know how to use these EFC reduction strategies before you are required to file, you can lower your EFC and increase your financial aid dramatically.

Mistake 5: Student Loans: Many students and their families use the wrong types of students loans, don’t use them at all or fail to look into which student loans are custom-made for their situation. A vast amount of information on student loans is available and all you need to do is read it. It will compare the different types and then you should be able to decide which is best if loans are required.

Mistake 6: Paying For College With Retirement Money: Every year I hear and read about parents that are tapping their 401K or other retirement plans to help pay for their children’s college expenses. They either withdraw or borrow funds for education and neither method is a good idea for most families. Don’t sacrifice your retirement for your child’s education, because they probably will not be able to take care of you in retirement if you do.

Mistake 7: Not Appealing Your Offer: Appealing a financial aid offer from a college can be a great way to get additional aid, especially if you believe some mistakes or omissions were made when you initially filed. This is the time to clarify and correct any issues that you discover and request an adjustment if possible. It generally cannot hurt to ask for more and it gives your student the opportunity to make some great contacts inside the financial aid system.

Mistake 8: Not Asking For More… In Years 2 to 4: As a student continues through college, most never visit the financial aid office again after their freshman year. If you make regular visits each semester and inquire about additional aid, scholarships or grants, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much aid is available (and sometimes unclaimed), specifically for 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students.

Summary: This is a just a summary of the major mistakes that I hear about each and every year. Each of them is avoidable if you just take the time to do your research, get organized and plan your strategy. Obviously, the earlier you start, the better prepared you should be… so get started today and save a bundle.