Save Your Final Paystub for 2014!

Here’s a common situation: You’re applying for scholarships, and some of the applications say you need to complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) soon. You’re not sure you’ll get tax forms from your employer before some of the scholarship deadlines, and you’re very sure you won’t have your taxes done by then.  Should you be worried?

Not at all. At the end of December, be sure to save your final paystub and any other financial statements that show year-end figures. These figures can help you estimate your income for 2014, and that estimate can be used to report your income on the FAFSA. Just remember that if you use estimates on your FAFSA, you’ll need to update your information after you file your taxes. For more information about estimating your income, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.

Reporting Parent Information on the FAFSA

Jan. 1 is almost here! That means the start of a brand new year, making and breaking New Year’s resolutions, and applying for financial aid for college. That’s right! The 2015-16 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) becomes available on Jan. 1. This is your first step in applying for federal and state financial aid to help cover your college expenses. While you aren’t required to complete your FAFSA that day, we highly recommend doing so as early as possible.

The FAFSA will require your 2014 income tax information. Remember, estimated tax figures are accepted if you need to file early in order to meet certain school, scholarship or state deadlines. The state deadline for the Oklahoma Tuition Grant (OTAG) is March 1, which means your FAFSA must be submitted by that date in order to be considered for this grant program.

Also when completing your FAFSA, if you’re a dependent student (as defined by the FAFSA regulations) you’ll be asked to provide parent/guardian information. But what if your parents are divorced, separated or don’t live together? Read below for some great tips to help determine which parent’s information should be used.

    • If your legal parents (biological and/or adoptive) are married to each other, answer the questions on the FAFSA about both of them.
    • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months.
    • If you lived with each divorced or separated parent for the same amount of time, answer the questions about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months.
    • If you have a stepparent who is married to the legal parent whose information you’re reporting, you must provide information about the stepparent, as well.
    • If you don’t live with your parents or stepparents, you must still report information about them.
    • The following people are not your parents unless they have legally adopted you:
      • Grandparents
      • Foster parents
      • Legal guardians
      • Older brothers or sisters
      • Uncles or aunts

To read more about determining which parent to include on your FAFSA application, click here:  https://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info

FAFSA Online vs. Paper, And Why It Makes a Difference

You may find it odd that many counselors and financial aid officers encourage online completion of the FAFSA.  After all, the form requires a lot of personal information, and some of it may be data you wouldn’t normally share with others. It may come as a surprise to you that completing the FAFSA online, as opposed to filling out the paper form, is highly encouraged for many reasons.

First and foremost, the online form includes guides and alerts that help you ensure you’ve entered your information correctly. If you make a mistake on a paper application, it won’t be caught until your application is reviewed several weeks later. Also, the online FAFSA includes a skip-logic feature that, depending on your answers as you complete the form, will automatically skip questions that aren’t relevant to your situation – which simplifies the process and makes the completion time that much quicker.  By completing online, you also have the option to transfer your required tax information directly from the IRS, reducing the chance of entering in an incorrect amount in a data field. And best of all, you’re information is saved, making next year’s application process faster.

Bonus tip! To help you secure your data, use Internet Explorer with a 128-bit encryption key, offered by most domestic versions of Internet Explorer.

 

Scholarships that Require the FAFSA

Did you know that many scholarship and grant applications require completion of the FAFSA? It’s for this reason that we recommend you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after Jan. 1, to help ensure you meet scholarship application deadlines. Financial assistance resources that require FAFSA completion include:

Many other grants and scholarships require FAFSA completion, so be sure to check the requirements of the program and submit your FAFSA sooner, not later. Stay tuned to StartWithFAFSA.org for more information to help you successfully complete the FAFSA early in the year.

It’s Only November! Why Should I Be Thinking About Taxes Now?

When it comes to tax preparation, the earlier you get started, the better. Here are the top 10 reasons to get your tax information ready now.

#10 What better thing do you have to do after spending too much money on Black Friday??

#9 You might still be able to find documents BEFORE they get thrown out with the Christmas gift wrapping paper.

#8 Your tax preparer will love you when you show up before the April 15th deadline.

#7 You’ll have something to harp on your parents (or your children) about when they don’t have their taxes done and you do.

#6 Early tax preparation gives you a valid excuse to postpone household chores.

#5 If you’re thinking about majoring in accounting, it’s a perfect way to start getting some real-life experience.

#4 You can place a “CHECK” beside “2014 Taxes” on your to-do list!

#3 If there are any unexpected hiccups in your tax preparation, starting early will help you stay ahead of the rush of late filers.

#2 Starting early allows you to pull your documents together over a period of weeks instead of scrambling to find them in a short amount of time.

And the #1 reason you should think about taxes now is…..

You can submit the FAFSA in January and have plenty of time to receive an award letter from your college, which will allow you to make informed, deliberate choices about the best way to cover your expenses.

I have some left-over student loan money. Can I use it to do some holiday shopping?

When it comes to student loans, many students borrow more than they need to pay for school. It can be tempting to borrow more than you need, but it’s important to remember that every penny borrowed is a penny you’ll have to repay, plus interest. It’s best to limit borrowing to the amount you truly need to cover college expenses.

Here are some tips for borrowing wisely.

    • Borrow only what you need to pay for the current academic year. If you have questions about how much you’ll need, ask a financial aid officer to walk you through your aid ‘package’ to see what’s left to pay after any grants, scholarships, work-study funds and monthly payments have been deducted from your balance.
    • Use your loan money wisely. Misuse of your student loan funds might seem like a great idea at the time, but when it’s time to repay your loans, you may regret paying for those little ‘emergencies’ with borrowed money. Cut corners now so you won’t have to spend years after college wishing you had done things differently.
    • Remember what you signed. When you signed the Master Promissory Note (MPN) and promised to repay your loan(s), you certified, “I will use the proceeds of loans made under this MPN for authorized educational expenses that I incur (see Section C, 12-B).” Holiday shopping, no matter how much you try to justify it, is not an authorized educational expense.

If you’re looking for ways to get through the holidays, check Oklahoma Money Matters’ “Q&A Forum,” where you’ll find an entire section in the archive devoted to holidays and spending. To learn more about student loan repayment, visit ReadySetRepay.org.

Recipe for FAFSA Success

The upcoming holidays often mean good food and fun with friends and family (and more good food). The holidays can be even more enjoyable if you can relax knowing you’ll have financial aid for college. If you’re interested in a slice of funding to help satisfy your college tuition appetite, here’s a recipe for FAFSA Success.

Ingredients:

    • Your Social Security number
    • An assigned PIN from pin.ed.gov
    • Completed tax returns (yours and your parents’)
    • Bank and asset statements and documents (yours and your parents’)
    • And a few other documents listed at studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa

Directions:

At pin.ed.gov, combine your name, Social Security number and date of birth to receive an assigned PIN number. Once PIN is obtained, stir in remaining ingredients including tax returns, bank and asset information, family size and colleges you want to attend, along with your parents’ information. Bake until your Student Aid Report (SAR) is done – typically about a week or two.

The colleges you selected when completing your FAFSA will be notified of your SAR results.  Visit websites for your colleges of choice to determine what applications may be required to be considered for enrollment.

And remember, you need to whip up a new FAFSA every year to continue to receive financial aid!

College Assistance for Veterans

You know that Veterans Day is a federal holiday celebrated in November every year, but do you know how it began? Veterans Day marks the end of World War I in 1918 which occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. Therefore, it’s always recognized Nov. 11. This day was originally established to honor WWI Veterans, but in 1954 it became a holiday for veterans of every American war.

To assist veterans who wish to attend college, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers several types of benefits to help with educational expenses. Check out the links below to find a program that may best meet your situation or the situation of a veteran you know:

If you are eligible to receive Montgomery GI Bill benefits, check this link: www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/. You’ll have access here to a variety of information on pay rates, benefits for specific schools, and a phone number to call for questions.

As you celebrate Veterans Day today, please take a moment to remember the sacrifices of the brave men and women who have fought to protect our homeland and freedom.

Do You Have Questions About the FAFSA? We Can Help!

All students planning to further their education after high school should complete the FAFSA every year they need financial aid for college. Whether you’re preparing to submit the FAFSA for the first time, or you’re reapplying as a college student, we are here to help you find answers to your FAFSA questions.

While the FAFSA may look somewhat difficult, the online application at www.fafsa.gov has been simplified and improved over the years to provide students and parents with a more user-friendly application experience. Throughout the process, applicants can easily find helpful hints and information to help answer important questions. If you have questions before you begin the application, the “Help” section at FAFSA.gov is a great place to start. There, you can browse commonly asked questions and search specific topics.

If you find you still have questions, click “Contact Us” in the upper right corner of this page to either call, email or leave us a message. Your personal information will be kept completely confidential and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction to find the information you need. Remember, you can always contact any financial aid office for assistance with your FAFSA, whether you plan to attend that college or not. You may also contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800.4.FED.AID (800.433.3243) for assistance.