Jan 04

The FAFSA officially opened on January 1st! Are you prepared?

Remember:  Correct and finalize the FAFSA with updated information once your current year tax return is submitted.

CSS/Profile Submissions:  The CSS/Profile (College Scholarship Service) is a financial aid form used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs to award institutional funds and is generally due around January for Regular Decision applicants. Double-check your financial aid submission deadlines, as they differ by school.

To learn more about the differences between the FAFSA and CSS/Profile forms and for additional guidance, please visit the Smart Track™ program and create a FREE account.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Nov 18

Common Mistakes on a FAFSA and CSS Profile form

Common Mistakes on a FAFSA and CSS Profile forms

Financial Aid season is here.  As we help our clients with their FAFSA and CSS Profile forms, we are coming across some mistakes that we would like to bring to your attention. By catching the below items before the information is submitted, you will get a better (and more accurate) result.

529 Plans

  1. These are considered a PARENT asset, NOT a student asset.
  2. The amount that should be reported for 529 plans should include the total value of these plans for ALL students in the household.
  3. If a grandparent/other relative has this plan for the student, do NOT report this amount.

Contributions to Retirement

  1. The amount for contributions to retirement needs to be reported on both the FAFSA and CSS Profile.
  2. There are two types:  Payments to Tax-Deferred Pension and Savings plans, and IRA
    Deductions and Payments to Self-Employed SEP, SIMPLE, and Keogh
  3. Payments to Tax-Deferred Pension and Savings plans are found on W-2 Statements, Box
    12a-12d, and only amounts for codes D, E, F, G, H, and S. Do NOT include amounts from
  4. Including these amounts is crucial when entering estimated financial information. If your family makes large contributions and they are not included on the initial filing of the FAFSA and CSS Profile, the family’s EFC will raise drastically after updating the tax information. To prevent financial aid from being taken away, please double check these amounts!

Additional Real Estate (NOT your primary residence)

  1. Amount entered should only include the Equity (Total Current Market Value LESS Amount Owed).
  2. If property is inherited, or shared with another family member, ONLY include percentage of value that applies to the parent on the forms. For example, if total market value is $100,000, and you only own half of the property, then the total market value to report is $50,000.
  3. Time Shares should NOT be included unless there is a value associated with the real estate. If the Time Share cannot be resold, do not include a value for this property.

Social Security Benefits

  1. Student: Do not include taxed or untaxed amount on the FAFSA or CSS Profile.
  2. Parent: Taxable amount is included in Adjusted Gross Income on FAFSA and CSS Profile. Untaxable amount is only included on CSS Profile form.

Business Information

  1. If you have income from a business, this business information must be reported on the CSS Profile form.
  2. Even if the business has no value, by indicating you are self-employed, or show income (profit/loss) on Lines 12, 17, or 18, the Business Form on the CSS Profile must be completed.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to avoid the most common mistakes on a FAFSA and CSS Profile forms.  If you need help, please let us know.

Nov 05

Top 10 Tips to Save Thousands When Paying for College

Top 10 Tips to Save Thousands When Paying for College


  1. Always fill out the FAFSA – If you don’t apply, the answer is always no.
  2. Complete forms promptly – Don’t wait until the school asks for them, the deadline, or until taxes are completed. Get them done as soon as possible.
  3. Don’t assume that the FAFSA is the only financial aid form you have to fill out. – Many schools have their own institutional forms and/or want a CSS Profile form.
  4. Don’t worry about a schools “sticker price.” – Net price is what matters. What is it actually going to cost you, out of your pocket, to attend?
  5. Some colleges have money to give you and some don’t. – Some schools give merit aid, some give need based aid, and some give both. Take the time to see if a particular school gives the kind of aid you want or need.
  6. Borrow responsibly – Every student gets a Federal Direct Loan. If you need more loans, do so with caution.  Will you be able to make the payments?
  7. Watch out for scams. – If you have to pay money to get money… it’s a scam.
  8. Your financial aid offer isn’t the final offer. – Call the financial aid office and explain any special circumstances and ask to have your offer reconsidered. The worst they can say is no, and you’ll be surprised how much extra money they could
  9. Don’t ignore tax savings. If you qualify, take the American Opportunity Tax credit.  Also, be aware of certain tax savings strategies that will reduce financial aid (UTMA’s and 529 Plans are two good examples.)
  10. Get a job! – Studies have shown that students who work to pay for part of their college expenses are more likely to graduate on time and are more likely go get a job in their field quickly after graduation.
Oct 13

How To Find College Scholarships


Are you wondering how to find college scholarships?  I’ve had a number of families ask me recently to show them how to find college scholarships.  I decided to create a short video to give you my quick advice.  Have a look:

As I mentioned in the video, here are the 5 college scholarship search websites that I recommend.  Note:  I do recommend that you get a new e-mail or use a separate e-mail account because they tend to generate a lot of unwanted e-mail.


As mentioned in the video, I highly recommend the book I to the right on how to find college scholarships.  Click here to take you to the book page in Amazon.

And remember, don’t EVER pay someone in order to qualify for a scholarship.  If someone tells you that you have to pay money to get money, they’re wrong.  Run for the hills because it’s likely a scam.

Please comment below with any questions and share this post with your friends.

Bye for now,


Sep 15

Asset Protection Allowance – What you need to know to get the most free college financial aid

Asset Protection Allowance

There’s been an update to the Financial Aid Formula.

The Department of Education has reduced the Asset Protection Allowance, or APA.  The APA is the amount of money you’re allowed to have before they start counting your assets against you in the financial aid formula.

Below is a chart that shows the change over time for a married couple where the older parent is 48 years old.  In 2013, you could have had $40,000 in the bank with no impact to your financial aid.  For this coming January’s FAFSA submission (the 2016-17 school year), you can only have $18,700.

asset-protection-allowance-older parent-age-48-line-chartSo what does this mean to you?  If you had left $40,000 of assets visible to the financial aid formula and we haven’t adjusted your plan… you just lost about $1,200 of need based financial aid potential for the 2016-17 school year.

The last thing we want are surprises that will cost us.  If you haven’t recently to reviewed your college financial plan (or if you don’t have one), please schedule a meeting with me to review everything and make sure you’re on track.  

Feb 09

How College Funding Advisors Help Families

How To Take Control Of The College Funding Process And Get The Maximum Amount Of Money For Your Child’s College Education…

Control the financial aid process

Have you ever wondered what college funding advisors do or how they can help your family?  I recently wrote a book about the college funding process.  Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some of the stories and chapters from the book on this blog.  Today’s chapter tells the story of how a families college planning situation can be very different based on using the advice from college funding advisors.

Today’s post will give you the story of two families – The Greens and The Smiths.  Let’s take an in depth look at their situations and what the college funding process looked like for each of them.

Both families started out with roughly the same financial situation, and their children applied to the same colleges since they both had B averages and 1,850 on their SAT’s.

However, that is where the similarities end.

The Greens started to think about the college funding process around December of their son, Timothy’s, senior year of high school.

John and Mary Green had a combined income of $60,000, $40,000 in savings, a home worth approximately $150,000, and a rental property worth $60,000.

They had also put $20,000 in savings into Timothy’s name because their accountant told them they would save money on taxes.

They waited until their taxes were completed sometime in early March and then filled out the financial aid forms themselves.

They got their Student Aid Report (this is what the government sends you after you file a financial aid form) back a short time later.

Much to their surprise, this complicated report told them that their family contribution (the minimum amount they would have to pay at any school) was $18,000.

John and Mary stared at the report in amazement.

John exclaimed, “You mean to tell me that two average folks making a modest income with very little savings have to pay this much?  Where in the world do they expect us to get all this money from?  We’re already up to our eyeballs in bills, and our savings was supposed to be for retirement – How in the world are we going to send Timothy to college?”

Around April, Timothy started getting award letters back from the colleges he had applied to.

He got his first one back from Ithaca College and said to his parents, “This can’t be!  The government report said we would have to pay $18,000, but this award letter says we have to come up with $26,000.  But that’s not the worst of it!  The money they did offer us is almost all loans with the exception of a $500 grant – How in the world are you guys ever going to be able to afford to send me to college?”

Timothy got the rest of his award letters from the other schools.  Unfortunately, most of them were just as bad as Ithaca College.

The Greens had a tough decision to make – should they tell Timothy they couldn’t afford to pay for his college education, or should they sacrifice.

They decided to use their life’s savings to pay for the first year, and then they would take out a home equity loan to help pay for years 2, 3, and 4.

College Funding Advisors

The story of the Smith’s turned out a lot differently.

They also had a combined income of $60,000, savings of $40,000, a home worth $150,000, and a rental property.

However, they decided to take control of the process.

Mr. Smith decided to use a local college funding expert who explained the process to him and his wife and told him how to increase his eligibility for financial aid.

The first thing he told the Smith’s to do was set up their savings and investments in the most favorable terms legally allowable before filling out the financial aid forms.

The next thing the college funding expert showed them was how to properly value their home for the financial aid forms.  He explained that the government uses a special formula called the “Housing Index Multiplier” which is based on the year you purchased your home, and the purchase price.  Most people have no earthly idea what this formula is, and end up over-valuing their home, which hurts their eligibility for funding.

The next thing the expert showed the Smiths was which schools their son, Peter, had the best shot of getting money from.

He explained how some schools have a lot of money to give out while others have virtually nothing.

The expert said “You must know which schools can give you the most money before you apply – not after.  This way you won’t be surprised at the end of the year.”

The third thing the expert helped them with was filling out the forms.  The Smiths were amazed when he told them that many financial aid forms are submitted with errors or inconsistencies.  He went on to say, “If your form goes in wrong, you will lose thousands in funding.”

Joe and Cindy Smith wondered whether all of this planning would pay off.

The first good sign was when they received their Student Aid Report.  It said their family contribution was only $8,000.  This was $10,000 less than what the Greens had to pay – all because the Smiths took control of the process before they filed their forms.

But the best was yet to come.

Their son, Peter, started to get his award letters back from the colleges he applied to.

He had also applied to Ithaca.  Except, unlike Timothy, Ithaca said he would only have to pay the amount of his family contribution, and they would cover all expenses above and beyond that.  He also received mostly grant money and only one loan.

Peter also started receiving award letters from the rest of the schools, and the monies offered were almost exactly what the expert told him to expect.

Joe and Cindy had an easy decision to make.  All they had to do was come up with their family contribution, and most of the schools covered the rest of the expenses.

Peter ended up going to Ithaca, and his parents didn’t have to spend their life’s savings or mortgage their house to the hilt to do it.

The Smiths lived happily ever after.

College Funding Advisors

What was the difference between these two families?

On the surface, they both looked the same.  They had similar incomes, assets, and both students had similar grades and SAT scores.

The only difference was that The Smith’s took control of the process instead of sitting back and hoping for the best.

Don’t put yourself or your family in the same position as The Greens!  Contact a college funding advisor today before you end up like the Green’s.

Feb 04

College Board IDOC Requirements and FAQ

Many families have begun to receive requests from the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC).

College Board IDOC RequirementsThe College Board IDOC Requirements and FAQ are below.  I have listed all pertinent information about the IDOC along with the most Frequently Asked Questions.

Through the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC), the College Board collects families’ federal tax returns and other documents on behalf of participating colleges and programs.  The College Board will notify students selected by participating institutions when they must submit the required documents.

IDOC is only available to students that participating colleges and programs select and the College Board notifies for participation.  Do not enter the site unless the College Board notified you that at least one of your colleges or programs participates in the IDOC Service.

About College Board IDOC

Through the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) a college or program can ask the College Board to collect tax and other related documents from you and your family. The financial aid office will use these documents to verify information from your financial aid application and to better understand your family’s financial circumstances. The College Board notifies students selected by participating institutions that they must submit the required documents.

The notification will identify the colleges for which the documents are being collected, as well as the deadline date for submitting the documents to the College Board based on the deadlines specified by each college.

Once the College Board receives your information, electronic copies of the documents will be made available to the participating college(s) requesting the information.

As you work your way through this process and you are stressed out, print the following image and follow the directions:

Reduce Stress

IDOC Frequently Asked Questions

Q:   How can I send my information in to IDOC?
A:   You may submit your required documents in one of two ways.  You may upload your documents on the IDOC site or you can mail in a paper packet.  Details on both of these methods are listed in the help section on the IDOC site and in separate sections in this FAQ (listed below).

Q:   How do I verify that the College Board has received my IDOC documents and has forwarded it to my college or program that requested it?

  1. Sign-In to your Document Management Dashboard (https://idoc.collegeboard.org).
  2. The Processed Documents section of your Document Management Dashboard will display the date we processed each IDOC document and the date it was made available to your college(s) or program(s). We will also email you when the College Board has processed your IDOC information.

Q:  If I applied to two (or more) colleges or programs that are IDOC participants, do I submit two copies of my documents?
A:   Submit only one copy of your documents. All of your college(s) and program(s) will have access to your submitted information that they have requested.

Q:  We cannot meet the deadline for submitting our information to IDOC. What do we do?
A:   Submit the documents requested to the College Board as soon as possible. Contact the college(s) and program(s) that requested the information and explain your circumstances. The quickest way to get us your information and expedite the process is by uploading your documents. See Electronic Submission of Documents section below for additional information.

Q:   How long does it take to process my information once the College Board receives it?
A:   It takes up to two (2) business days to process the information once the College Board receives it. If you are submitting documents by mail, please add up to three business days for transit of your packet. The quickest way to get us your information and expedite the process is by uploading your documents.  See Electronic Submission of Documents section below for additional information.

Q:   What is my IDOC ID?
A:   Each year the College Board generates a unique seven-digit ID number for each IDOC student. This identifier acts as a control number for your IDOC documents. You can also use it to log into the IDOC website. This ID number was sent to you when you were notified to complete IDOC and is available on the family information page and your IDOC Cover Sheet. This number is secure and only available to you and your school(s) that participate in the IDOC program.

Electronic Submission of Documents

Q:   What types of document formats do you support for upload?
A:   You may upload any of the following document types:
JPG, TIF, GIF, Word (DOC, DOCX), Excel (XLS, XLSX), and PDF (must not be password protected)

Q:   What is the process for uploading documents?
A:   Follow these simple steps in order to upload your documents to IDOC.

  1. Make sure your documents are saved in an accessible place on your computer or device.
  2. Click the Upload Documents button on the IDOC Document Management Dashboard page.
  3. A window will appear with upload instructions.
  4. You can repeat the file selection process and upload as many files as you like.
  5. When you have finished uploading files, your files will appear in the My Uploads section of the IDOC Document Management Dashboard page.
    NOTE: Don’t be concerned if your documents still appear as Required Documents even after you can see the Document Package in My Uploads. That will remain the case until they have gone through a validation process that can take 2-3 business days to complete.


Paper Submission of Documents
Q:   How do I ensure prompt paper processing of my information?


  1. Print your Cover Sheet on one side of a single sheet of paper.
  2. Complete and mail the IDOC Cover Sheet with one legible copy of each of the required documents. On the Cover Sheet, verify or provide the SSN/SIN for each person submitting documents. Sign all appropriate tax documents.
  3. Copy each document page on a separate 8.5″ X 11″ sheet of white (not lined) paper (full sized – no reduction or enlargement). Copy both sides of each tax form and be sure that the copy is legible and complete. Copies must be one-sided. Do not copy more than one W-2 form on a single sheet of paper.
  4. Do not staple or paper clip documents together. Do not send post-it notes.
  5. Mail all requested documents with the Cover Sheet to the College Board at the address on the Cover Sheet in an envelope that is large enough to hold all of your documents without folding them. Do not send the requested information to the College Board in multiple mailings. Do not send duplicate packets. Do not send duplicate documents. Only information from the noncustodial parent, if requested, may be submitted separately with a separate Cover Sheet.

Remember, material received without a Cover Sheet will not be processed.

Q:   How do I print my IDOC Cover Sheet?


  1. Sign-In to IDOC.
  2. On the Document Management Dashboard, click the “through the mail” link, then click the IDOC Cover Sheet link.

Q:  Where should I send my IDOC information?
A:   Send your IDOC information to:
College Board IDOC
PO Box 8570
Portsmouth, NH 03801
NOTE: Do not send your packet to another College Board address. It will delay the processing of your information.

IDOC for Non-Custodial Parents

Q:   I am a noncustodial parent. If I upload IDOC information will my child’s custodial parent be able to see it? We are logging into the same dashboard.
A:   None of the documents uploaded to the student’s Document Management Dashboard can be opened or viewed by anyone online once they are uploaded and submitted. They will be stored and reported to the student’s schools separately.

Q:   I am a noncustodial parent and am mailing in IDOC information for my child. What will happen to my information if there is anything wrong with the packet? I don’t want the information returned to my child’s custodial parent.
A:   We do not return information we are unable to process, but we will contact you if we are unable to process your information and you will be required to submit a new packet. Therefore, to ensure that your child’s financial aid award is not delayed, it is very important that you include a legible one-sided Cover Sheet with your documents and that the envelope in which you send your IDOC materials to the College has a clear and correct return address so that we can process your materials and so that we can easily contact you if we are unable to process your information.


If you find yourself confused and would like some help, please click here to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns with a College Funding Advisor.

Nov 29

Should I pay for FAFSA completion?

Pay for FAFSA

On the federal government’s financial aid website, if you look at their page to help you avoid scams, they say that you shouldn’t pay for FAFSA help.  You can see it for yourself here:  studentaid.ed.gov.

Yes, this post is a rant on my part.  Here’s what I want to know:  Why doesn’t the government want you to get help with your financial aid forms?  Have you ever thought about that?

The government says don't pay for fafsa help. Ha!Here’s why (in my opinion):  If you get help with your FAFSA, you won’t make mistakes.  You won’t report assets that are not reportable.  In short, you’ll qualify for more financial aid.  Accurate forms and a better result.  Is it worth paying someone $50 or $100 to have them help you with your financial aid forms?  Well, it could save you thousands of dollars per year by allowing you to qualify for more grants or more favorable loans.

But why do they call it a scam?

Do You Pay For Tax Preparation?

On the IRS website, there is a link where they tell you how to complete your taxes for free.  Why doesn’t the IRS tell you that it’s a scam to pay to have someone complete your taxes for you?

If you pay an accountant or a tax preparer, you know the tax forms are done correctly and you are likely to get a bigger tax return.  So, accurate forms and a better result.  The same benefits from a FAFSA preparation service.

I know there are a lot of things that the government does that don’t make sense.  (At least to me they don’t.)  But this completely baffles me.

In the words of President Ronald Reagan: The 9 most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

Well, if you trust the government, then go ahead and take their advice.  Don’t get any help with your financial aid preparation.  I’ll just ask you this, when they don’t give you enough financial aid and your son or daughter has to go to the local community college, who’s going to help you out?  When your kid has hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans they can’t afford to pay back, who’s going to help you out?

If you need or want help with the financial aid process while your kid is in high school, let me know.  I’m happy to help.  If you put it off and need help when its too late, call someone else.

I hope this rant hasn’t made you hate me, but if so… blame the government.

Bye for now.

Nov 29

The 2 Primary Ways To Get More Financial Aid

What financial aid do you qualify for and how can you get the most amount of financial aid possible?

The 2 Primary Ways To Get More Financial Aid

So, what’s involved in the financial aid process?  In its most simplistic terms you fill out your financial aid forms and your student receives the financial aid they qualify for.  But how?  Let’s break this down.  There are 2 components here:  Fill out financial aid forms, and get what you qualify for.

You’re probably wondering:  What financial aid forms do you have to fill out?  And, what do we qualify for?

Here are the 5 important and potential financial aid forms:

  1. Every student at every school will fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA,  every school year.
  2. Some schools will require the CSS / Financial Aid Profile form.
  3. If you are divorced, schools that required the CSS / Financial Aid Profile form may require a noncustodial Profile form.
  4. Many schools require their own forms called institutional forms.
  5. Many schools will require copies of tax returns along with their financial aid forms.

After you send in your financial aid forms, based on the information you provide and the financial aid formula, you will receive your families Expected Family Contribution or EFC.  This is the amount of money that you should be able to pay each year.

So how much financial aid are you eligible for?

To determine this, you have to find out the Cost Of Attendance for each college your student is considering.  Now, please know that this is not the tuition at the school.  It’s the total cost to attend for 1 school year.

So now that we know our EFC and the Cost of Attendance of the schools our students are considering, we can figure out how much financial aid we’re eligible for.

Here’s the formula:

Learn how to get more financial aid

Family need is the amount of financial aid you qualify for.

How to get more financial aid:

There are 2 very important things that you need to understand when looking at this formula and the result.  These are the 2 primary ways to get more financial aid.

The 1st is that your EFC is based on the information that you reported on your financial aid forms.  For many families, once you understand the formula you can re-position your assets in such as way so that you can reduce your EFC.

So, let’s say you can reduce your EFC by $5,000.  Now you’re eligible for $5,000 more financial aid each year or $20k over 4 years.  That’s a lot of money, so you want to make sure you take advantage of every strategy that is available to you to reduce your EFC as much as possible.

The 2nd thing that’s important to understand about this formula is that you may not receive all of what you are eligible for.

Here’s an example of 2 schools…

When comparing financial aid from school to school, your out of pocket cost is far more important than the cost of attendance

So, which is the more expensive school?  Rutgers at $44k or Swarthmore at $62k?  If you’re looking at the COA, Rutgers is the cheaper school.  If you’re looking at what you have to actually pay, then the cheaper school is clearly Swarthmore!

These numbers look crazy, but I see this every day.  As your student is considering what colleges to apply to, this is a very important thing to consider.  Forget about the total cost of the college.  You need to make sure you’re looking at schools that meet the highest percent of your families need and give the highest percent of free money versus student loans & work study.

Here are the key takeaways:

1.  Before you send in your financial aid forms, make sure you take advantage of every strategy possible to reduce your EFC.  Make this a priority.  It can save you tens of thousands of dollars each year that you have kids in college.

2.  Identify the colleges that are able to provide the best financial aid offers.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking price tag equals the cheapest schools.  Remember this mantra:  Not all schools are created equal.

Thank you for taking a few minutes with me to learn about the financial aid process.  I hope you learned a bunch.

If you have personal questions or would like 30 minutes of my time, please schedule it here.

Please don’t forget to hit the like button, comment below, and share this with your friends.

Bye for now!

Nov 04

Survey: College and Financial Plan. What do you value?

Which would you rather have? (be honest)

A college and financial plan that is based on…

  1. Safety
  2. Predictability
  3. Flexibility
  4. Tax-favorable rates of return
  5. With slow and steady growth?


A college and financial plan that is based on…

  1. Volatility
  2. Unpredictability
  3. Non-liquidity
  4. Future tax liability
  5. But with higher potential upside?

Please share your thoughts with me below.

[polldaddy type=”iframe” survey=”779D35DADBF6CC9D” height=”auto” domain=”cwdnldsn” id=”which-would-you-rather-have-a-college-financial-plan-that-is-based-on”]

Want to learn how to have the 1st option, schedule a Financial Planning Consultation and I’ll show you how.