For tonight’s Ask Me Anything Thursday I’ve decided to share a situation I ran in to this week with a client.

I received a referral to a woman whose daughter is in college and will be a senior in the fall. The woman was frantic, because she just received her daughter’s fall tuition bill for over $20,000 and realized that her accountant had not filed her daughter’s FAFSA for the upcoming academic year. The daughter had lost out on a $8k (per semester) departmental scholarship based on her major , other university scholarships and some federal financial aid, as a result of this.

I walked the daughter through the FAFSA online application and reviewed her award from the previous year. I assured her and her mother that her PELL Grant and loan eligibility would not be impacted by the late filing. Any state scholarship/grant was lost and the renewal of her institutional scholarships is uncertain. Campus based financial aid, whether federal, state or institutional are awarded on a first come first served basis until the funds are fully expended.

I gave them strategies for dealing with the college bill for worst case scenarios. My hope is that this family can manage to pay the fall and spring college bills. I am going to monitor this situation with them to get them as much as I can to meet the financial aid that was awarded last year, so the young lady can graduate next Spring as planned.

This situation points out two very good lessons.

1) Apply EARLY and STAY ON TOP of your financial aid application process.

2) DO NOT have your accountant, CPA, or financial planner complete your FAFSA or CSS Profile. It is NOT their area of expertise.

In my years as a Director of Financial Aid, I could always tell when an accountant or CPA completed a FAFSA for a family, based on the errors that were made. I read the federal regs that govern the FAFSA, the state regs that govern state scholarships and grants, and kept up with changes to them. An accountant or CPA does do any of that. It’s not their job. And as this situation shows it can lead to financial disaster for the family and jeopardize the student’s ability to graduate.


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