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Tax Season Means FAFSA Season, Too

By Lacy Lukaszewicz
University Communications

MARCH 16, 2009 | Students enrolled in a college or university or family with members who are in school should remember that tax season also means time to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The financial assistance staff at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls has been working hard to remind students and parents that applying for financial aid can be essential in tough economic times and in doing so have held several information nights held on campus and in the community.

Barbara Stinson, director of the UWRF Office of Financial Aid, says that even if individuals do not think they are eligible for financial aid, they should take the time to fill out the FAFSA. “Everyone who is enrolled in higher education should fill out a FAFSA for two reasons,” says Stinson. “One, there is asset protection, so even if you have a lot of savings, for example, it is only one factor counted toward financial aid eligibility. Two, everyone is entitled to unsubsidized money. Financial aid doesn’t only mean gift aid; many people don’t realize loans also are part of aid.”

Stinson said the information nights helped reinforce the idea that the FAFSA can be submitted before taxes are filed and that most students file the FAFSA by mid-March. “You don’t have to wait until your taxes are done,” she said. “You can do it on estimated taxes, especially if it isn’t your first time.”

The most important message Stinson said she wants students and parents to remember is that the federal guidelines give some room to make changes in student financial aid packages. “If there is a change in circumstances, the financial assistance office has the ability to go into your aid package and adjust accordingly,” she said. “The FAFSA is a snapshot of your finances in January or March, so if something happens before school starts, you can come to the financial assistance office and fill out a reconsideration form and we can look into it.”

In 2008-09, some 523 UWRF Foundation scholarships were awarded to UWRF students, and hundreds if not thousands outside of the university exist, she says. Stinson said one thing that is not well known is that there are many scholarships that don’t get awarded because no one applies. “What I tell students is that getting a scholarship is the best hourly wage they will ever make,” she says. “Take a rainy Saturday to search scholarships on the web and apply for as many as possible. There are lots of scholarships that go un-awarded because they are hard to find, because it takes time to apply and write the essays, or because students think they will never win.”

Even if money is tight, Stinson says she urges students to stay in school. One of the biggest reasons students drop out is to go home and work to save money, but Stinson says that students should rethink this perspective. “I hate to see people drop out for finances unless they literally need to go home to support their family,” she says. “Usually if the economy has affected the family very deeply, it is an instinct to pull your child out of school, but pulling out of school immediately reduces his or her ability down the road for a career and sustained earning power.”

More than 300 students attended the on-campus financial assistance open house and information night in January, said Stinson. The open house provided a general overview of financial aid and offered experts from UWRF, the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to talk about filing the FAFSA and other topics.

An additional workshop in March for parents and grandparents offered advice on how to start savings money for children’s or grandchildren’s college education. The intent was to “get parents started on savings whether they use EdVest or some other savings plan,” said Stinson.

Stinson urges people to learn as much as they can about the process and what is available. Students, parents, guardians or anyone who has questions regarding financial aid can call the Financial Aid Office at 715-425-3141 to set up an appointment or e-mail questions to Walk-ins for enrolled or prospective students are welcome; but there may be waiting time to see one of three counselors.

The office is open from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Frequently asked questions and other resources and information can be found at “As a general rule everything is on our web site and if not, there are links to other web sites with the information,” she says.


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