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Terry Savage: Time-Sensitive Column Updates

Terry Savage, Tribune Content Agency on

Today's column focuses on two time-critical updates on recent columns. The first is for younger families who are seeking financial aid for college through the FAFSA form. The second is for seniors who want to rethink their Medicare Advantage programs. Time is running out for both!

Millions of students and their parents are still caught up in the FAFSA debacle over applications for financial aid. In an effort to "simplify" this required filing using a new formula and an online format, the Department of Education has created an incredible logjam that threatens the entire college acceptance process this spring.

First, the new program got off to a much-delayed start, opening in January instead of this past September. As a result, as of February 1, only 4 million of the 18 million applications expected to be submitted had been completed.

Since colleges determine aid packages based on FAFSA (even for many non-federal grants), the government delay has stalled the entire process, which is traditionally completed by March 1. That’s impossible now. And it means that student decisions on attendance, which are due by May 1, will also be impacted.

The latest word from the Department of Education is that it won’t even start sending accepted FAFSA forms to the colleges until at least March 1! That is a delay from the traditional end of January delivery to schools.

At a high level series of meetings in Washington earlier this month, the Education Department committed $50 million to help colleges add staff to deal with the situation. But until all FAFSA forms are processed, late filers will be at a significant disadvantage.

 

There’s talk of extending the admissions decision deadline to June 1, as was done during the pandemic. Even if that happens, schools will be scrambling to complete their acceptance offers and aid packages.

If you’re a parent of a high school senior or a returning student applying for aid for 2024-2025, here’s some advice for Jack Wallace, director of government relations at Yrefy, a lender that specializes in refinancing student loans. Wallace attended those high level meetings with congressional staffers in Washington, and he said, “Parents and students need to be persistent in filing and following up with their FAFSA forms.”

Wallace says families should be on the lookout for an email from the Education Department, a "notice of filing" confirming that their application has been processed. And by the end of March, families might want to contact college financial aid offices just to confirm their FAFSA has been received. Yes, those anxious families will create even more work for beleaguered student aid offices!

The season of college acceptance, financial aid offers and affordability decisions is always nerve-wracking for students and parents. This year promises to be exceptionally painful.

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