Parents who’ve saved a lot for college may not be giving much thought to applying for financial aid or managing cash flow during the college years, particularly if they have deep pockets. Financial advisors can help them make more informed decisions by educating them and getting them engaged in the whole college funding process.

All students who’ll be in college next fall—including high school seniors who haven’t yet applied for admission—should be encouraged to submit the 2020-21 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible after it becomes available this October 1 to maximize their aid awards from federal, state and school sources.

Families who may not have qualified in the past for need-based financial aid may qualify now, “especially if they’re looking at private schools with annual published sticker prices upward of $70,000 and have multiple kids in college at the same time,” says Ross Riskin, assistant professor of taxation at the American College of Financial Services and vice president of Riskin & Riskin PC, a public accounting firm in Orange, Conn.

Even an $80,000 price tag is possible. The University of Chicago, the first college to hit that mark, estimates a total cost of attendance of $80,277 for the 2019-20 academic year for students in on-campus housing. This includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and personal expenses.

Students who wish to borrow money and be considered for work-study jobs and some merit-based scholarships must also submit the FAFSA, says financial aid and scholarship expert Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a resource for parents and financial professionals.

For students seeking aid, the 2020-21 FAFSA takes into account a family’s assets at the time of submission and taxable income from two years ago (2018). “The cash in the bank or investments are going to count against you on the FAFSA,” Kantrowitz says, “but the debt is ignored,” except for margin loans on a brokerage account.

That means if one family has a lot of credit card debt and a lot of assets, and another family isn’t carrying credit card debt from month to month and has fewer assets (because they’re paying off their credit card debt), the second family is better off for FAFSA purposes, he says. Paying down debt using money in the bank makes financial planning sense too, he says, because it reduces interest charges.

Financial advisors can also help clients understand their expected family contribution (EFC) calculated by colleges and how specific schools award aid, says Kantrowitz.

Colleges may present these figures in a way that makes a four-year education seem more affordable than it is. “There’s a lot of marketing gimmickry going on,” he says.

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