Early filing, close attention can alleviate financial aid stress

PLAINVIEW – Of all the stressors of higher education, perhaps one of the most agonizing is that of financial aid and payment options. For many parents, many of whom are helping subsidize if not paying completely for their child’s education, weaving through the regulations, paperwork and deadlines of financial aid can be stressful.

Add to that the fact that the entire routine has to be repeated each year and parents can face some hypertension while their children pursue an education. Thankfully, the situation can be improved, says Perri McDonald, scholarship coordinator at Wayland Baptist University.

McDonald says thinking ahead about financial aid issues can eliminate much stress for both parents and students and may actually result in greater aid awarded.

“The sooner you can get your paperwork in, the sooner your student can be awarded and know what they’ll be eligible for,” McDonald said. “The early bird really does get the worm. Some of our sources run out later in the term, and we’re only budgeted certain allocations for funds. There’s always a possibility we’ll run out.”

To avoid the mess altogether, McDonald urges parents to file their children’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms immediately after filing the previous year’s tax returns. All the needed paperwork is on hand and the task can be done quickly. Also, it is early enough in the year to be eligible for maximum grants and loans.

Filing late, especially after the school term begins, can have several adverse effects, McDonald added. For one, the forms get added to the growing piles in the financial aid office, slowing down their processing times. Also, a student’s eligibility for Federal Work Study jobs will be at stake since they cannot be awarded FWS funds without completed files.

McDonald also encourages parents to pay close attention to the forms and any required signatures to avoid delays in processing as well. And parents should know that even if they do not plan to file a FAFSA for their child, the student still needs to complete the university’s financial aid form for scholarships only in order to receive any aid, even scholarships from outside sources.

She encourages parents to not expect the aid to be exactly the same from year to year, as regulations and formulas tend to change as well as their financial situation. For this reason, filing the annual FAFSA is worth the time it takes.

Having a plan for financing education is the most important step, though.

“Parents and students need to know what school will cost and how they'll pay for it,” McDonald said. “You can't just drop them off and hope it’s all OK.”

She encourages parents to begin planning now about paying for younger children’s education as well, such as a savings plan or other options, so the stress is eased when they leave for school

McDonald adds that if a student is planning to marry in the summer, parents should wait to complete the FAFSA until the couple is married since they will likely be eligible for more grants and loans. Otherwise, aim for having all paperwork for aid completed by June 1.