ROSELAND, NJ - For students applying to college, January is the time to start applying for Federal Student Aid via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The office of Federal Student Aid provides more than $150 billion each year to help more than 15 million students pay for higher education via grants, loans, and work-study funds for college or career school. They are “proud to sponsor millions of American minds pursuing their educational dreams.”

While some students do apply for this money each year, there are still many who don’t because they are unaware of the FAFSA program, think they will not be considered or because the application process seems daunting to them. There are many companies, like Roseland-based College Benefits Research Group CBRG, which was co-founded by Steven Sirot, David N. Slater and partner, Educational Counselor, Janet Loren, that can help make the application process easier.

According to Sirot, “It is critical that families with students applying to college fill out the FAFSA forms. These forms come out in early January and need to be filled out promptly to ensure that applicants are in the best position to maximize financial aid opportunities. What many people don’t know is that once the financial aid forms are received, financial aid is awarded right away—so the longer you delay, the harder it is to get your best award—so it is prudent to be proactive.”

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Sirot also said, “Many people think that they do not fit the criteria to file for FAFSA aid and they couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the families we assist qualify for little to no ‘need-based’ financial aid. We help these families by creating a plan that involves a combination of academic student positioning along with financial and tax planning strategies. Many of our six figure income clients are surprised to learn that after strategic planning, they too can qualify for financial aid.”

According to the CBRG site, “College is the second highest expenditure for many families, next to the purchase of their home. Have you ever purchased real estate without seeking the advice of a professional? Of course you didn’t. Paying for college shouldn’t be any different. There is crucial information you need to know about the college funding process before you begin.”

To help families in the FASFA process, CBRG offers some tips on what students (and parents) need to do to get the FAFSA filled out properly and on time:

  • Many schools look at the order the schools are chosen on the forms, so applicants should list schools alphabetically to avoid this problem.
  • The FAFSA specifically states that some financial information should not be listed on the forms, yet many people erroneously list these items when filing. Doing so can cost them time and possible aid. In addition, certain items are home equity information on the PRIMARY residence. Retirement plans such as a 401k, Annuities, and Profit Sharing plans are also excluded.
  • In cases of divorced or separated parents, only the CUSTODIAL financial information is required on the FAFSA.
  • In cases of unmarried parents living in the same household, both parents must be listed as custodial. This means that both parents’ assets and income will be factored in financial aid eligibility.
  • There should also be an understanding that the first submission of the FAFSA in January is usually based upon estimates of the prior year. Once one’s taxes have been filed, the FAFSA must be updated with the IRS data retrieval tool, which is available approximately three weeks after electronic filings and eight weeks after filing by mail. Many times, the school will want to wait until the second filing before finalizing financial aid awards, so it is prudent to get one’s taxes done as early as possible. 

In addition to helping students with the FAFSA process, CBRG is a college planning organization with a unique model for working with families to find the right “fit” financially, academically and socially for their child and their family. This is an innovative and effective approach to developing a college game plan that works for everyone.

Working with college planning specialists like those at CBRG can make a person aware of tips and strategies most people don’t even know exist. Utilizing a combination of these little-known strategies can tremendously benefit a family and its pocket-book. The services provided by CBRG are set up to relieve people from the stress and anxiety that are typically associated with the thought of paying for college. Therefore, it can be valuable to have an advisor working on one’s behalf throughout this process.

“CBRG serves college-bound students and families by demystifying the process of searching for a proper college ‘fit,’ and by providing outstanding support during the application and aid processes,” said Slater. “We are different from other college planning services in that we offer ‘harmonization’ of financial, educational and social guidance to the entire family. We meet jointly with students and parents to develop a college game plan that works for everyone.“

Sirot added, “Too often college students attend a school because their friends are there, or it is the so-called ‘hot school’ that is on everyone’s radar, without any consideration of whether the school is right for them or the long-term effect it will have on family finances. We work hard with the entire family to let students know that going to college is a responsible decision that affects the whole family, and there are no ‘free rides.’ The student will be responsible for their academic success in college, which includes graduating in four years, and paying back of some loans that may need to be taken out in their name.”

CBRG helps clients avoid making common mistakes when paying for college. Sirot and Slater use their combined years of experience to help families get money from colleges and universities even if a student doesn’t qualify for ‘need-based’ financial aid. They also tell clients what to do and not to do before applying to college to ensure they are offered as much money as possible. In addition, aside from filing college funding forms for clients, the team coaches them on the appeal process if they are under-awarded by a college. The group also helps with selecting the correct college, performing career searches, helping with preparation for SAT/ACT, maximizing the financial aid potential, and even shows clients how to cash flow their financial responsibilities.

To see how CBRG has helped some local families, click here.

CBRG offers free seminars to help people understand the college application process. To see a list of upcoming classes, click here.

Click here for links to some helpful college-planning resources.