As a parent, February used to mean fun vacations in Florida or the Rockies—when my middle-school kids didn’t have a care in the world. Now, with all three of them in college next fall, my February focuses on financial aid paperwork.
I miss the good old days.
For many colleges, March 1 is the deadline for filing the IDOC form. The IDOC gives colleges more detail on your family’s financial picture. (Yes, some schools require the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and the IDOC to fully assess your eligibility for institutional financial aid.)
If your school requires the IDOC, the College Board would have notified you by email. If you don’t know if they did, check with your college’s financial aid office to see if they require this form. Completing the IDOC may make your school more affordable, so finding this out is well worth the effort!
If the IDOC remains on your to-do list, follow these five tips to help check it off:
1. Read Your Documents Carefully
Individual colleges have their own unique requirements. The list of what to do and how to do it is very detailed on your IDOC cover sheet; fortunately, the College Board provides convenient checklists to help you through the process.
2. Clarify Your College’s Deadline
You’ll send your IDOC to the College Board, which will pass it along to your school. So, is the deadline you wrote down to get your package to the College Board or to your college?
This distinction is important, because the College Board needs a few days to process your documents. If you have yet to complete your packet, you still have time to get it done and postmarked by March 1.
3. Know Which Tax Returns Are Required
As part of your IDOC package, you need to submit signed copies of completed 2013 tax returns for you and your parents. This is because you may have estimated the information on the FAFSA and CSS Profile for your income. Requiring completed tax returns, based on actual W2s and 1099s, keeps everyone honest.
4. Finish Your Taxes (If You Can)
(Maybe you picked up on this from the previous paragraph …)
Look, it can be tough to finish your taxes this early in the year, as many students and parents alike are still awaiting papers from various financial institutions. If you are in this situation, check to see if your college or colleges allow you to complete the IDOC while filing an extension on your taxes.
In our case, my son’s college offered that option, which was a huge relief. Colleges understand that you are doing your best to submit everything on time, but some things are out of your control.
5. Assess Your Financial Picture
Sometimes, by completing your actual tax returns, families discover that the estimates they used in the FAFSA and CSS Profile differ from the final numbers. This difference could make or break a student’s financial aid award.
If you find your family’s income was dramatically lower or higher than previously reported to the school, get in touch with the financial aid office to explain the change—rather than just letting them notice it in the raw data. The award will still be based on that data, but by personally communicating, you can best explain any extenuating circumstances.
For my son, we shipped his IDOC this week. Another financial aid deadline met! Now to chase down the last details for our tax returns, so we can keep working on the rest of our financial aid to-do-list. (Maybe someday, after three BAs are all paid for, we can resume our fun Februarys far far away.)
Want to better understand the IDOC? Check out the FAQs at the College Board’s website.