FAFSA submission period begins Thursday

Experts concerned about this year's FASFA as it uses 2019 tax returns
WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman

BUFFALO (WBEN) – The 2021-2022 FAFSA submission period begun Thursday, and this year, there’s heightened concern for families due to economic strain amid the pandemic.

To exacerbate fears, this FAFSA period is based on information gleaned from 2019 tax returns, meaning a large portion of sudden financial hardships may go undetected.

“The problem with that is if there’s a difference between what your family’s situation is like now from a money standpoint relative to what was reported in 2019, people are going to have to contact the college’s financial aid office and request a professional judgement review,” said Tony Ogorek, of Ogorek Wealth Management.

A professional judgement review per FinAid:

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not provide families with a place to explain special circumstances affecting their ability to pay for the student’s education. The Federal Need Analysis Methodology (FM) is likewise a rigid formula, with no provisions for exceptions. To remedy this, Congress has delegated to the school’s financial aid administrator the authority to compensate for special circumstances on case-by-case basis with adequate documentation. As the man or woman in the field, the financial aid administrator is best able to evaluate the family’s situation and to make appropriate adjustments.

“The Department of Education does not have the authority to override a school’s professionally judged decision, so the bottom line is if there’s been a material change in a family’s financial condition, they contact the financial aid office, they ask for a professional judgement, and they have to bring their own documentation to back up the fact that what you see on the 2019 tax return may not reflect today’s reality for that family,” Ogorek added.

Jason Towers is the Chief Officer of Enrollment and Marketing at Houghton College and says the FAFSFA process is a guiding one that helps institutions and prospective students and families.

“This effort is, we’re hoping, allowing us to recognize and kind of meet people where they are – recognize this larger pandemic, recognize the impact it’s having on families with the intent of deliberately saving students money,” said Towers.

Like Ogorek, Towers is encouraging prospective students to ask as many questions as possible to financial aid offices so they feel confident they’re making the best decision possible.

“There are opportunities for families to work with their financial aid office, wherever they might attend, to fill in some special circumstances forms and make some other submissions to more accurately reflect their current income situation,” he continued. “Those are evaluated by each financial aid office independently, but there are opportunities for adjustments to be made in the estimated family contribution, which is basically the result that comes out once you complete the FAFSA.”

Jeff Boron serves as a college planner with the Financial Guys, and he highly suggests, perhaps this year more than ever, for families to seek assistance from professionals prior to filling out that essential paperwork.

“If someone needs help, seek some professional help because it can make or break your financial aid, and if you have an error, it can actually disqualify you from aids that are awarded,” he said.