Editor’s note: What’s becoming an annual event at this crunch time in the private school school financial aid calendar, we offer some tips directly from the financial aid expert himself, Mark Mitchell, Vice President, School and Student Services (SSS By NAIS). I asked Mark to share insights on the top five questions that SSS is hearing from families this financial aid season. Here’s Mark:
At private schools all over the country, the process of applying for financial aid for the 2015-16 school year is underway. At SSS by NAIS, we field many questions from parents about how to best complete the application and below are five questions that come up frequently. As you prepare for the financial aid process, knowing the answers may help you be better informed about what to expect.
1. What if I don’t have my tax returns ready when I need to complete the application?
It’s always best to complete your application by the deadline each school has set, even if your tax forms are not completed yet. If your school’s deadline is late enough that you can complete the application after your tax forms are done, you should wait until your taxes are done. If you cannot complete your tax forms by the school’s deadline, you should use estimated information on the application and send the completed tax forms as soon as possible when they are done. Often, that means doing your taxes sooner than typical.
2. What if I’m divorced and my “ex” is not in touch with us or doesn’t want to fill out the forms?
Because the need-based aid process is centered on the parents’ ability to pay school costs, not their willingness, schools typically do not exempt an unwilling parent from filing an application, without an understanding of the extenuating circumstances. Most schools will require you and your ex to complete a separate application. If you have reason to believe that will not be possible, be in touch with the school to explain your situation.
3. Do you expect me to sell my house or raid my retirement fund to pay for school tuition?
Financial aid applications will ask about assets you have such as home equity, retirement, and investments in order to understand your financial position. Once your family contribution is determined by the school, however, it is up to you to determine how to use your resources to meet your commitment. Many families seek the advice of certified financial planners to help make those decisions.
4. How do I reflect what I pay for tuition for my other children?
Most financial aid applications will ask about your children, where they go to school, and how much you pay for their schooling. When reporting how much you pay to send your children to school (public or private, K-12 or college), be sure to include all school-related costs, not just the tuition or fees.
5.What are the factors that determine being eligible for assistance?
Simply stated, the major factors involved are what you earn (your total income), what you own (your house and other investments), what you owe (your mortgage and other debts), the size of your family, and how many children you have to pay tuition for. After making allowances for basic living costs, taxes you pay, and certain other expenses, some portion of your remaining resources is considered available to pay school costs.
Your financial need is the result of the tuition costs at the school MINUS your family contribution, as determined by the school. If you show need (costs are greater than your contribution), you are eligible for an award. It is critical to understand that being eligible is no guarantee that the school is able or obligated to give you a grant, given factors such as the limits of their aid budgets.