With Financial Aid, Tax Season Isn’t Just In April

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Filing your taxes early is key to maximizing financial aid for many colleges.

I used to think I could wait until April to get serious about doing our family’s taxes. (Some years we filed an extension and delayed the process until September.) Procrastinator that I am, I easily can find other things to do besides dealing with a Form 1040 and the taxman.

But now that I have one son in college and my daughter getting ready to enroll in the fall, tax time comes to our family in February—because their financial aid depends on it.


Some Schools Need Your Tax Documents By March 1

Whether you’re a future college student or already established on campus, you and your parents need to do your taxes early in order to confirm your financial aid package. Like many things in life, the early bird catches the worm.

For high school seniors or transfer students waiting to hear from colleges, crunch time begins in February, as some colleges want your full 2012 tax returns in hand by March 1. (This can be a little challenging when some employers don’t give out  tax documents, like W2s and 1099s, until January 31).

Getting this all done in time means February isn’t just the month of Valentine’s and chocolate any more.

College Board CSS Schools And The IDOC Service

Colleges that require you to fill out the CSS Profile as part of the financial aid process may also require you to use the College Board’s IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service).

This service expedites getting your and your parents’ full 2012 tax information to the colleges that need copies of your actual tax documents—not just the best guestimate of your family’s financial picture that you and your parents may have put on the FAFSA and CSS Profile.

In my case, about half of the schools my daughter applied to that required the CSS profile also use the IDOC service. So if you have completed the CSS Profile for any schools, the College Board will let you know which of those schools also need the IDOC. Be sure to check for those emails—or contact the College Board directly, if you aren’t sure whether you need to send in the IDOC forms.

Filing Late Can Mean Less Financial Aid For You

Also, it’s important to check with your college’s financial aid office for their individual IDOC deadlines, as they can vary. If you aren’t able to send the IDOC tax information by the due date, you risk not getting the full award you may have otherwise received.

One college my daughter applied to noted on their website that they reduce your award by 5% for every month your IDOC forms are late—so being on time is critical.

Jumping through these tax hoops is just part of the process of getting financial aid. Meeting the deadline can make a difference in your college costs, so in the end, spending my day off on Presidents Day doing my taxes was worth it.

And even better? Here’s another hidden benefit of completing your taxes early: Any refund you’re receiving may come early too!

We can’t offer tax advice, but we are full of encouragement! Jumping through hoops may seem like a pain, but they’re totally worth getting financial aid. Let us know how you’re navigating the process in the comments.

(Photo: IRS EIN

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