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Five Ways to Maximize College Financial Aid

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. I found the following article that I thought may help those of you looking at college for either children or grandchildren.

Some parents assume that if they position their assets creatively, they can strengthen their child’s chances of receiving financial aid. But in most cases, this isn’t financially smart or necessary. Some assets will matter, but not as much as you might assume; schools ignore qualified retirement accounts, and most institutions don’t even ask about home equity. Maximizing eligibility for aid can often only be tweaked at the margins. Here are five suggestions:

·         1. Check the EFC

Many affluent parents worry unnecessarily about how their investments will hurt their chances for financial aid. They should use an Expected Family Contribution calculator to generate a rough idea of what they would be expected to pay for one year of college. If their EFC, expressed as a dollar figure, is fairly close to a school’s price tag, they won’t qualify for need-based aid. In this scenario, parents should look for schools that provide merit scholarships to high-income students, and the vast majority of colleges and universities offer these awards.

Whether a child will receive the maximum financial aid award for which he or she is eligible is heavily dependent on the child’s college list. Parents may position their income and assets in an effort to obtain more aid, but if the schools that their children apply to are stingy, a larger financial aid package could simply include more loans. In contrast, if you are wealthy and seeking merit scholarships to help defray college costs, applying to many of the most elite institutions—such as the Ivy Leagues—would be unwise because these schools only give need-based awards.

Parents shouldn’t expect schools to alert them about their financial-aid deadlines, because these institutions can potentially save money if a student doesn’t seek financial aid. Many parents also overlook filing a second aid document called the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, which about 260 schools—nearly all of them private—also require.

To see how many FAFSA applications are submitted at individual high schools in a particular area, go to

·         4. Move Money Out of a Child’s Name

Parents should consider moving money out of a Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account that is treated as a child’s asset, and into a custodial 529 account, which enjoys more favorable treatment. The FAFSA assesses children’s assets at 20 percent, and the PROFILE assesses them at 25 percent. In contrast, the aid formulas assess parent assets at much lower rates —a maximum of 5.64 percent for FAFSA and 5 percent for PROFILE.

Here’s an example of how a $50,000 account would impact financial aid if it was treated as the student’s versus the parent’s. This is how the PROFILE would calculate aid eligibility:

$50,000 (child asset) X 25 percent = $12,500

Financial aid eligibility would drop by $12,500.

$50,000 (parent asset) X 5 percent = $2,500

Aid eligibility would decline by $2,500.

Parents can shut down a custodial account, pay any applicable taxes on the withdrawal and then move the money into a custodial 529 savings account to obtain the more favorable aid treatment.

Schools don’t look at qualified retirement assets when calculating the financial need of a family. The FAFSA also ignores nonqualified annuities, while the PROFILE does count them.

But the FAFSA instructions are not clear about what assets parents need to include on the aid application. The FAFSA, for instance, asks, “As of today, what is the net worth of your (and your spouse’s) investments, including real estate (not your home)?” Unfortunately, the aid form does not specifically tell parents to exclude retirement assets on the form.

In addition, the form does not make clear that retirement money shouldn’t be included when it asks about the value of the parents’ cash, savings and checking accounts.

Remember, each family’s circumstances are different and what works for one family may not be right for another. It’s the same with investing, tax planning and insurance for example. The key is to find a trusted advisor in each of these areas that can help you make the correct decision for you and your family’s particular situation.

If you need any assistance in the area of college planning or any other financial guidance please don’t hesitate to contact us. Though we handle investments we have a solid network of qualified individuals that can help you in other areas such as this.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a nationally recognized higher-ed speaker, journalist and author of The College Solution. She writes about college for CBS MoneyWatch and her own blog,
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