With the down economy, the importance of financial aid and scholarships is more important than ever for parents and students alike. Filling out the FAFSA forms is a crucial step in this process but anyone who has tried to fill out these forms know that they can be confusing. 2011 also brings several changes to these forms that most people aren't aware of, making the process even more difficult.
Here are the FAFSA change highlights:
Addition of a new High School question (school name, city and state) and deletion of the enrollment status question and TEACH Grant questions. The new High School questions are added to help high schools identify students who haven't submitted the FAFSA, to help them encourage these students to submit the FAFSA. Plus . . .
- Addition of more intelligent skip logic, such as skipping asset questions when asset information does not affect eligibility.
- Parent PLUS loan will require a FAFSA starting in 2011-12.
- Addition of a single login and a single point of entry to the online FAFSA, whether to start, continue, complete, check the status of, view, correct or print signature pages for a FAFSA.
- The EFC figure will be moved to a less prominent location, since it tends to confuse students, but this means the students who are interested in it may have to hunt more for it.
- Addition of searchable help, smarter school code search, more dynamic context-sensitive help. Completing the online FAFSA will be more of a guided process this year.
- Correcting errors on the online FAFSA will be easier.
- The IRS prefilling will also be available to students when they submit corrections to the FAFSA.
- Added a federal loan estimate to the confirmation page.
- The “Interested in Work-Study or Student Loans" question will drop the ability to say that the student is not interested in student loans, as this does not increase other forms of aid, does not provide meaningful information to schools and is confusing for applicants.
- The National SMART Grant and Academic Competitiveness Grant add-ons to the Pell Grant have been eliminated, as 2010-11 was the last year of funding for these programs.
- The automatic zero EFC threshold has increased from $30,000 to $31,000.
- The Hope Scholarship tax credit's improvements (from $1,800 to $2,500, 2 years to 4 years, partial refundability, not subject to AMT, higher income phase outs) made by the American Opportunity Tax Credit have been extended for two years and won't be expiring this year (2010).
- The Tuition and Fees Deduction has been extended for two years. For most students the Hope Scholarship tax credit is better.
- The various improvements to the Coverdell Education Savings Account ($2,000 contribution limit instead of $500, eligibility for K-12 expenses, not just college, higher income phase outs etc.) are extended for two years and won't end this year.
- Employer tuition assistance of $5,250 still available for graduate and professional school, not just undergraduate.
- Student loan interest deduction of $2,500 in student loan interest will continue to be available beyond the first 60 months and the income phase outs ($60K/$75K single, $120K/$150K MFJ) will not decrease.
For more information, see http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
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