Saturday, February 05, 2011

This might be too late to help

kw: warnings, fafsa

I was forcibly reminded again today that there is no end to those who take advantage of ignorance, timidity, and impatience. I am neither ignorant nor timid, but my impatience caught up with me. Fortunately, I caught my error before it was too late, just barely!

Today was my day for slaying the big financial dragons of the new year: Preparing my income tax return and filling out the FAFSA application for our son's financial aid. It is possible to do all that in one day. At this point, I need two numbers from numba-one-son, which have been promised later this evening; then all will be finished.

I use tax preparation software from H&R Block. It is very good. That was no problem, and I was done by 1:00 PM. I had my Adjusted Gross Income, which is needed for the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Note that word "Free". I took a little nap, then started in. I used Google to find FAFSA, and saw a number of returns. I hurriedly clicked the top link.

I saw that the login process was set up for a user name and password, which is a little different from the form I was used to over the past couple of years. I thought, "Hmm, it looks like they've gone to a more familiar system," and proceeded to create my account. I spent a couple of hours filling everything in. Knowing that the form I'd used in the past saves with every turn of the page, I just filled in and filled in and filled in blanks until the end. There were frequent sidebar items that looked like very low key ads, which I ignored. Then I got a gut check.

A banner at the top of the last page stated that there were two probable errors that could cause the amount of aid to be significantly reduced. This was followed by a large box offering a "Standard" product and a "Deluxe" product for about $79 and $99. Whoops! I checked the address bar, which included, not, as I thought. Big Whoops!! I clicked the browser's Back button; all along there'd been warnings that doing so would cause the filled-in data to be lost. That was what I wanted at this point! Hoping against hope that the folks had not been storing our financial data and other details, I closed the browser and opened up a new one.

I entered, manually,, and got the entry form I'm familiar with from past years. I filled it out. Here's the amusing part: It is easier to fill out than the one I'd just (nearly) completed at the commercial web site! Yeah, I know, you never expected anyone to call the government's FAFSA form "easy". Comparatively, it is. It took me about half the time. So here it is, about 8:00 PM, and I'm done. I could have been done 2-3 hours earlier...

Bottom line, folks. Don't bother with commercial "helper" web sites. Use, which is free! If you want advice about possible "mistakes" that might cause a smaller "package" to be offered, there are plenty of FREE services, including one at

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