A Faster FAFSA?

by Tracy R. Walsh

Sophie Quinton looks at an attempt to simplify the notoriously complex Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):

The Education Department has made it easier for students and families to fill out the FAFSA on their own by removing repetitive questions and streamlining the online application using methods common to tax-preparation software. The online form—which almost all students now use – skips questions that don’t apply to that student, alerts them to glaring errors, and will automatically input tax information from the Internal Revenue Service. It takes most students about a half-hour to complete.

But Laura M. Colarusso isn’t too impressed with the new form:

[T]here are still 100 questions on the FAFSA’s six pages, many of which have several parts and ask for sensitive financial data beyond what’s required even on a tax return. Some are straightforward, but many are so convoluted they require their own separate sections of instructions.

Take, for example, Question 45, which has 10 parts.

It requires that students list any “untaxed income not reported in items 45a through 45h, such as workers’ compensation, disability, etc. Also include the untaxed portions of health savings accounts from IRS Form 1040—line 25. Don’t include extended foster care benefits, student aid, earned income credit, additional child tax credit, welfare payments, untaxed Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Workforce Investment Act educational benefits, on-base military housing or a military housing allowance, combat pay, benefits from flexible spending arrangements (e.g. cafeteria plans), foreign income exclusion or credit for federal tax on special fuels.”

And that’s just Part I.

Update from a reader:

My kids are hopefully college bound in the next couple years, and after doing the research on funding college tuition, I am currently engrossed with rearranging my assets just so that I won’t have to spend a big chunk of my savings on tuition. If you own anything – a vacation home for instance, that was part of my retirement plan – you get nothing, nada. The colleges might just as well be raiding your retirement fund. So now I have to sell real estate, pay off debt, find alternative investments, make big changes in my portfolio just so that I can send my kids to college without wrecking my retirement plans or sending them into a debt spiral.

We have to jump through so many hoops just for affordable health care and education. Is this what America has become? Every man for himself? I envy the citizens of other nations – even if they do have to pay higher taxes – because they don’t have to worry so much, or expend so much energy, to take care of their health and education needs.

An expected update from another:

Really? This person is upset at the idea that he/she might have to spend savings to pay for the kids’ college education? Really??? Might I suggest that paying for your child’s education is something you should do if you can? Financial aid is there for families that do not, in fact, have second homes waiting for them when they retire; people without substantial real estate holdings and stock portfolios; people who might hold jobs well into their 70s just to pay off the loans they take to ensure their kids get the college education they did not?

Is filling out the FAFSA a pain in the tail? Sure. Most “help” comes at the cost of time and effort. Streamlining would be a good thing, but making it easier for wealthy kids to get aid so their parents don’t have to use their savings? Not really what the whole thing is about.