Tips for Completing the FAFSA

Planning ahead is vital for a successful academic year and it’s never too early to start thinking about financial aid for next year. The 2020-21 FAFSA is available for filing beginning October 1 and getting an early start means you’ll have plenty of time to complete and submit your financial aid well before the deadline. Whether you’re a student or a parent, filling out FAFSA can be complicated and time-consuming, so it’s important to be careful in order to avoid costly mistakes. With these helpful tips, you can avoid dreading the deadline and rest easy knowing next year’s financial aid is secured.

Fill It Out Early

You may think that you have plenty of time to fill your FAFSA out, but putting off finishing it can cost you. Filling it out and submitting your FAFSA as soon as it’s available provides you with the opportunity to get the most financial aid available, as some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. In some instances, states and colleges run out of money early, so make sure to complete your FAFSA early to avoid being left high and dry for the next academic year.

Get A FSA ID Before Starting Your FAFSA

Your FSA ID is an important part of completing your FAFSA as it allows you to electronically sign your FAFSA and submit it and access other Department of Education websites. Each FSA ID is unique and both parents and students will need to create their own separate IDs in order to avoid any delays that may result from a mix-up.

Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)

One of the requirements for completing your FAFSA is supplying your financial information. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool lets you avoid the difficulty of finding old tax returns or risk entering the wrong data. In a few simple clicks, you can import your tax information quickly and accurately, reducing the risk of any errors. Simply click “Link to IRS” to use it.

Carefully Review Information Before Submitting Your FAFSA

Even the simplest mistake can have a serious impact your financial aid, delaying your application or affecting the amount of financial aid you receive, so before you submit your FAFSA it’s important to make sure everything is complete. Common mistakes include leaving too many fields blank, forgetting to list the colleges you plan to attend, or misplaced commas and decimal points. Mistakes often come from failing to read or misunderstanding directions so while you’re reviewing your information make sure you’ve filled everything out according to the instructions.

Sign and Submit

Until you’ve signed and submitted your FAFSA it’s still incomplete. Once you’ve reviewed all of your information and checked or corrected and mistakes you can submit your FAFSA electronically using your FSA ID.

If you’re looking for help with questions about making sure you have everything you need for your financial aid application, contact an experienced accountant like the ones at Donohoo Accounting Services. Schedule a free consultation at 513-528-3982 or email us today. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for our latest updates!

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Tips for Saving for College

Having a college degree is vital in today’s economy because a degree means higher wages, more career opportunities, greater job satisfaction and other benefits. But as college costs continue to increase it’s more important than ever to start saving for your children’s future as early as possible. These tips can help you get a head start and put your student on a path to higher education that leaves them with as little student debt as possible.

Put Yourself In The Right Financial Position To Start Saving

Parents are encouraged to start saving for their child’s college fund as early as possible, but before you do it’s important to make sure you’re in the right financial position. Paying off credit card or your own student loan debt, establishing an emergency savings account, as well as saving for retirement are important financial milestones to complete before establishing a college fund. Completing these milestones will help put you in the right financial position to start saving.

Research College Costs

With college costs continuing to rise, it’s important to make sure you’re saving enough to cover your future student’s tuition, living expenses, materials and fees. Researching and comparing the costs of attending public colleges both in and out of state with private universities and community colleges gives you an idea of what kind of costs to expect. This allows you to determine a time frame and budget.

Explore Different Savings Options

There’s a variety of different savings options available to start your college fund, and researching available plans will help you find the one that’s right for you. Education Savings Accounts (ESA) offer parents the opportunity to save $2,000 per year, per child that grows tax-free. While the money can be withdrawn tax-free when it’s ready to be used, you must meet a certain income limit to qualify and contributions are limited to $2,000 a year.

529 plans are an alternative to those looking to contribute more than $2,000 or don’t meet the income limits of an ESA. The high contribution rates offer the opportunity to quickly meet your goal and like the ESA, your money grows tax-free. While 529 plans provide parents great saving opportunities for a single child, restrictions may apply if the parents decide to transfer the funds to another child.

Find Out If You Qualify for Certain Tax Breaks

Qualifying for available tax breaks helps provide you with more money that can be put toward educational costs. If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, you can get a credit of up to $2,500 that covers certain educational expenses while the Lifetime Learning Credit covers costs other than tuition and books including activity fees.

For help with questions about the best ways to save for your child’s future, contact an experienced accountant like the ones at Donohoo Accounting Services. Schedule a free consultation at 513-528-3982 or email us today. And don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for our latest updates!

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10 Tips for Navigating Open Enrollment

Beginning each fall, many employers kick off their open enrollment period. This is a time when employees have the opportunity to enroll in — or make changes to — their health insurance benefits. As the open enrollment season approaches, now is an excellent time to review your current health insurance coverage, determine what benefits or funds you have left to use before the close of the coverage year, and consider your insurance needs for the upcoming year.

Basic Information Required

If you are a new benefits enrollee or if you are making changes to your medical coverage, you will need some basic information for the family members you wish to cover. You will need to have Social Security numbers and birthdates of the family members you will be covering. Additionally, if any of your family members are covered by secondary health insurance plans, you will need to have those policy numbers and the name, birth date, and Social Security number of the policyholder.

Current Providers and Medications

To accurately compare your current coverage with the insurance plans you have to choose from during open enrollment, make a list of the names of your current healthcare providers. Include doctors, specialists and hospitals or healthcare systems for each family member to see if they are included in your employer’s benefit plan network. Also, gather a list of regularly-taken medications for each family member – the name and dosage – as well as the name and address of your preferred pharmacy. Knowing your co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs will be key to determining the correct plan for you and your family.

Summary of Benefits

Review the benefit plans’ summary of benefits and comparison tables if more than one option is available to you. Be sure to compare the procedures and medications that are covered, and not covered, by each plan. Also consider each plan’s level of coverage for preventive care, such as annual physicals, mammograms and well-child visits.

Cost Comparison

Estimate how much you can afford to spend on healthcare in a year and compare the premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Then, total what you spent in the previous year on doctor visits and medicine. Remember to list annual or seasonal doctor visits and treatments for chronic conditions like asthma, as well as behavioral health costs for therapy or counseling. If your records are inaccurate, use an online healthcare cost calculator to help you estimate your spending.

Also consider co-insurance costs (for health insurance plans that have separate prescription drug plans), and your annual spending using your medical savings account (MSA) or flexible spending account (FSA). To predict your MSA/FSA spending for the coming year, total your costs for over-the-counter medications, chiropractic care, vitamins/supplements, and alternative medicines and treatments. If your unused MSA/FSA funds don’t roll over, be sure to use them before your spending deadline.

Could you use some assistance making decisions about the costs of healthcare during open enrollment season and how it can impact your other financial needs? An excellent resource is an experienced accountant like those at Donohoo Accounting Services. Schedule a free consultation at 513-528-3982 or email us today.

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4 Common Money Concerns And How To Fix Them

The people who worry the most about money are … most people. Whether you have a lot, a little or you’re somewhere in between, concerns often linger about such money issues as having enough income for retirement, being able to cover emergency expenses, staying afloat following a job loss and making wise decisions about using the income and savings you have. To help ease your mind about your money concerns, the following tips will help you address some of your top financial stressors.

Make Wise Financial Decisions

If you’re lacking skills and experience in making good financial decisions, there is a fix for that. Online you will find a number of money management courses that can train you in how to budget, manage your money, control spending, invest and make wise financial decisions. As well, many local investment firms offer free courses in money management and investing, as do some banks and community organizations that are devoted to financial literacy.

Prepare for Loss of Employment

Fluctuations in business markets and in the economy overall can turn what once seemed like permanent employment into sudden job loss. When this happens, what can you do to stay afloat and sustain your lifestyle until you find a new job? Start by paying yourself first by saving 10 percent of your income – until you have six months’ worth of income saved. This is a standard rule for having money to live on in case of sudden job loss.

Set Aside Emergency Funds

The next important thing to plan for financially is the next emergency. An emergency expense may be suddenly needing a new car or replacing a major appliance that breaks down. Because these concerns make such a big impact on your budget, it’s important to have at least $2,000 saved at any given time to accommodate an emergency. Pay yourself first out of your current income or trim your spending as you would to save for any other important goal.

Save Enough for Retirement

Because some of your living expenses actually go down during retirement, you should plan on needing about 80 percent of your current income level to maintain your lifestyle. After considering all of your various retirement income sources such as Social Security, 401K, investments and pension, meet with a retirement planner or use an online tool to determine how much more income you’ll need. Then, make sure you’re taking advantage of retirement benefits offered by your employer (such as matching contributions), and save and invest small amounts on your own over time to meet your goal.

Additionally, if credit card debt is a major concern for you in managing your money, be sure to read our blog about the Top Five Things to Know about Credit Card Debt. As well, the professionals at Donohoo Accounting Service are here to help you manage your finances. We have been helping people like you to wisely manage their finances for more than 20 years. For a free consultation, call us today at 513-528-3982.

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