FAFSA vs. The CSS Profile

While the cost of college can be incredibly daunting, there are millions of dollars in financial aid grants and loans out there every year for those who navigate through the process most efficiently.

In order to receive that financial aid, there are a couple forms you will need to know about: the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.

– Scott

FAFSA vs. The CSS Profile

The federal and state governments as well as the colleges themselves each shell out a significant amount of money to help make education a bit more affordable.

There is at least one (and for many a second) financial aid form for which you will have to input detailed information about your family’s finances.

First, we’ll delve into the better known and most widely utilized financial aid form: the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is used and accepted by nearly every college and university in the country, so you may have heard of it before.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

This form determines your eligibility for federal student loans as well as certain grant money and even certain scholarships.

You can fill out the FAFSA online and submit it to whichever colleges you like.

Of the two major financial aid applications, the FAFSA requires somewhat less detailed financial information… but it is still incredibly daunting. Many families make minor errors and/or miss deadlines which can result in them losing financial aid.

After the form is submitted you will received what’s known as an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the approximate amount that the government feels you can afford to contribute to your child’s education based on your finances. (brace yourself – this number is normally far more then you think you can afford!)

As a general rule of thumb, the higher your income and assets are, the higher your EFC will be, so whatever you can LEGALLY do (do NOT lie!) to present the lowest income and assets possible on the form, will keep that number as low as possible and help result in the best financial aid package.

Mistakes can mean losing all of your financial aid benefits and having to pay back any money you have received. (Worse – purposefully fraudulent information can mean huge fines and even jail time! It is NEVER worth lying on this form.)

Some assets are considered ‘includable assets’ and must be listed on the FAFSA and other assets are known as ‘non-includable’ assets (meaning they don’t need to be reported on the FAFSA)

It is important to note that a lot of financial aid is given out on a first come, first serve basis, so the FAFSA should be submitted as early as possible in order to receive the most aid (the first date you are eligible to submit the form is January 1st of your child’s senior year of high school)

Although it is not always a requirement to submit a FAFSA, do not make the mistake of not filing because you assume you won’t receive any aid.

Some schools use the FAFSA in giving out merit based aid, and it can also serve as a type of insurance if your family’s fortunes take a turn for the worse (such as being laid off from your job).

You can always update your FAFSA later, but if it is not submitted before the deadline, then you will have to wait until the next year to file again.

Next time, we will examine the CSS Profile, how it differs from the FAFSA, and look at some tips on filling out this less often-utilized, but equally important financial aid form.

To Your Family’s Financial Planning Success,

Scott Weingold

Co-Founder, College Planning Network, LLC

College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of the College Planning Network, LLC

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by CollegeStats.org.  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News, TheStreet.com, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.