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College Bound?
Start Your Engines: Be Sure You're Ready for the FAFSA Race
by Marc Eisenson

Sure, you've heard about the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, but you might wonder, what the heck is the FAFSA?

I was hoping you'd ask. It's a college competition that's less physical than football, doesn't require a court like basketball, and isn't intellectual like a chess tournament. Still, the FAFSA requires speed, accuracy, and endurance. But more than anything else, timing is crucial, the stakes are enormous, and winners can pocket tens of thousands of dollars.

If you have children headed toward college, FAFSA is guaranteed to be in your financial future. Whether Junior is headed for State U or Costly College, your family's cost will be based to a great extent, if not entirely, on what appears on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) -- which you should submit as soon and as accurately as you can, right after January 1st of Junior's senior year.

Even though your taxes won't be prepared by then, and you'll need to send in an estimate (followed later by an updated form), don't delay!! And don't forget to sign the application, or you'll go to the bottom of the pile, which means you very well may end up with zero financial aid.

We're talking real money here, folks. At last count, a year at Harvard ... not counting books or those occasional trips home ... costs a budget busting $31,132. The average annual cost at private colleges is $20,273, and it's $7,773 at state schools.

And Now for the Good News
Few families are expected to pay the full cost for a college degree, although too many students do earn a Doctorate in Debt by the time they enter the work force. And too many families find their retirement dreams drowning in a surge of asset depletion tidal waves, thanks to Bankbreaker U.

By preparing in advance for the College Payment Olympics, you and your family can find yourselves in the winners circle, gold medal firmly in hand. (OK, it won't be a gold medal, but you could save enough money to buy a bunch of them.) If you play the FAFSA race right, it'll mean a lot more money left in your pocket.

Finding a FAFSA
You can get a FAFSA form through the high school's guidance department, college financial aid offices, or many libraries. You can also call 800-4-FEDAID for a copy, or go online for one:


The quickest way to file is online (where you get prompted if you haven't filled in information correctly). But since the online version isn't posted until early January (that's government for you!), the best approach is to get the paper version, and work ahead of time with that. Then, if you decide to file electronically, you'll have all the info gathered. Your local school should have the current FAFSA.

First Come, First Served
Based on your FAFSA, college admissions officers will work up aid packages composed of loans, grants, and work/study opportunities. The difference between FAFSA derived aid packages and the expected costs for tuition, room, and board is the amount you're supposed to come up with, which is known as your EFC (Expected Family Contribution).

With few exceptions, your EFC will be the same at all colleges. What won't be the same is your debt load. All other things being equal, you'll have to shell out more for a private school than for a state-run one. But all things aren't equal, and many private colleges have enough financial aid money available, so that four years in their ivory towers won't cost you any more than four at the good ole state school.

Because the amount of financial aid is limited at every school, early FAFSA filers are most likely to get help, while late filers may get nada. If your child is a high school senior planning to go to college, filling out a FAFSA accurately and sending it in early is an all-important investment of your time and energy -- and THE way to start the New Year off right.

For more on selecting the right college, and then paying for it, see our book, Invest in Yourself: Six Secrets to a Rich Life, as well as the books and Web sites we recommend here.

A Heads Up About Scholarships
Don't fall for those ads from outfits claiming they can help you get your share of the gazillion dollars in awards that go to waste every year. Save your time and money. Scholarships are fine and dandy, if your kids apply for and get them on their own, without those pricey "search services." But you should know upfront that the schools will deduct the amount of the outside scholarship from their share of the aid package, not your EFC!

To help your child receive the special honor s/he deserves, ask at the high school, as well as where you work, pray, and belong -- be it the VFW, NAACP, AFL-CIO, or the Boy Scouts. Also go to: www.fastweb.com/fastweb, www.collegeboard.org, and www.salliemae.com.

Read and Save
Here are some of our favorite books on paying for college:

Financing College -- by Kristin Davis ($17.95)
If you're haunted by those astronomical tuition projections, this easy-to-read guide will help you formulate a battle plan for affording college. Kristin Davis, an editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, takes you every step of the way -- from developing the best investment strategies, to understanding all your financial aid options. She explains how your kids can save on living expenses on campus, and how you can get the most out of the new education IRAs and tax credits.

Paying for College Without Going Broke -- by Kalman A. Chany ($18.00)
Are you dreading filling out those complicated financial aid forms? This is the book to have by your side. Updated annually, it includes line-by-line guidance on completing the two most widely used forms. You'll also find lots of valuable advice on long and short-term strategies for meeting those college bills without breaking the bank.

Don't Miss Out: The Ambitious Student's Guide to Financial Aid -- by Anna & Robert Leider ($9.00)
This annually updated classic gives you the lowdown on how financial aid really works. Packed with insider tips and resources, it's must reading if your children are juniors or seniors in high school. The book's sections on financial aid trends and myths and misconceptions are especially useful in helping you play the college money game. The current edition also spells out how the new educational legislation will affect families. A great value.

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

As of Issue #35 (Fall, 2003), The Pocket Change Investor, our quarterly newsletter on how to save money, get out of debt, and live better on less, will be available online, only -- for free! To get future issues right into your inbox, send your email address to us at newsletter@goodadvicepress.com, putting the word "subscribe" on the subject line.

The Pocket Change Windfall: Each of our 34 back issues offers painless ways to get out of debt and save on the many expenses that confront us all -- taxes, credit card bills, mortgages, insurance, food, you name it. You can get all 34 for just $29.95 -- that's less than $1 each. To order, you can use our secure server, call 845-657-8245, or write to us at:

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor © 1999, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman

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