When it comes to college financial aid, filing early isn’t always best

Personal Finance

Of course, financial aid calculations are Byzantine and case-specific. If you’re going to try to shuffle assets, you should first be sure you understand all the applicable rules and trade-offs.

Furthermore, shifting parental assets won’t make a big difference unless you’re looking at large sums, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy for Cappex.com. An additional $100,000 in parental assets boosts parents’ expected contribution by a maximum of $5,640, he said.

Don’t delay filing if you’re not on top of all relevant deadlines.

“The biggest mistake that people make is not filling out the FAFSA, or filling it out late,” said Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Other top mistakes filers make are mixing up parent and student information on the form, such as entering a parent’s Social Security number instead of the student’s and entering a nickname instead an exact legal name, McCarthy said. Because such errors can delay processing, you should build in some buffer time before your earliest deadline.

“If you get it in a week before the priority filing deadline and there’s an issue in getting processed, it could be that it doesn’t get to the school until after their deadline,” said Alford. “You don’t want to wait until the last minute.”

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