Monday, February 27, 2006

It's FAFSA time again

FAFSA is an acronym for Free Application For Student Aid. It's one of the major ways in which dollars are found to pay for college for people whose names aren't Pritzker, Rockefeller or Gates.

In the FAFSA you tell the government how much you earn and how much you've saved and the government tells you how much you are expected to "contribute" to your child's college education. It is also used to determine eligibility for student loans and work study. Even "academic" scholarships typically require parents to submit FAFSA's.

Somehow the government always thinks I can pay more than I think I can pay.

There was a time when middle class parents would be mortified at making such a comprehensive disclosure of their assets -- but there was also a time when an ambitious kid, working during the summer and part-time during the school year, could put a sizeable dent in his or her own tuition. That time is called the "distant past."

Each FAFSA is "signed" electronically by the student -- as if the student actually fills this monster out. I can't get my kids to pick up their own laundry or turn off the lights, much less prepare their own tax forms. I'd have no chance getting them even to look at a FAFSA.

The trepidation I feel at the outset of this task this year is compounded by the fact that, last year was, at least on paper, a good year. In fact, despite the wailing and lamentations that I have previously recorded in this blog, I made more money last year than I did in either of the two previous years. One of the problems with being self-employed is that income tends to fluctuate, both within the year (as past posts have discussed) and from year to year.

And success, in this case, is counterproductive: By making more last year, I will surely qualify for less aid this year -- even though I have no idea, at this point, how I'm going to replace three cases that generated nearly all of my income last year but are now concluded, or largely concluded.

My income will almost certainly fall this year, and so will the available student aid. On the plus side, I will only have two college tuitions to pay next year. (I'm really, really hoping Older Daughter can find a job after graduation.) And I still have two kidneys at this point -- but I also have two kids who have yet to start college.

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