Dear FAFSA administrators
(a toast to all parents trying to fill out a FAFSA form on behalf of their kid)
We are going into this conversation under the assumption that most US citizens who are on the FAFSA website are not unscrupulous persons or else they would be paying for their kids’ college tuitions with the bags of cash they skimmed from their mom’s pyramid-scheme/jewelry small business or their own side-hustle reselling their kids’ ADD meds. To be sure, most kids could pay for their own tuitions simply by not charging quite so many high end makeup purchases on their dad’s credit card — but who are we kidding? The $1,892 annually that bad cosmetics would save is just one measly college credit at most of the “good” colleges out there. Might as well spend the money to look pretty since modeling/acting is the only job that underage kids can make cash at anymore that might possibly earn enough to get a kid through college.
Except, you know, drug dealing. But we are scrupulous.
As a scrupulous mom, I went on the FAFSA site ready to tell the truth, the whole truth and…what the hell is my Federal Signing In ID? I search “FAFSA” on my laptop and come up with about six hundred emails that start out “I hate the FAFSA form” both to and from me going as far back as my own college days. I stop for a minute, make a cup of coffee, and fondly recall when my own parents, trying to raise four kids on $40K/annually, had to divulge the fact of their financial situation to their eldest (me) as I applied for college on this very form. We had to write down how much money we had in savings and the amount was just over a year of my dad’s salary. No investments. No second/third home. No “investment farm” (what even IS an investment farm??) My mom broke down in tears when my father, ever the honest man, went out and came home in a brand-new red Chevy Sprint. The world’s stupidest car cost him $40K in cash. All so that I could qualify for the full tuition academic scholarship that my school had offered me.
Otherwise that money was going directly into the coffers of my college.
Either way, my parents were going to have no savings at the end of the day. Might as well have a shiny little Chevy Sprint.
Right so, coffee is done and I’m ready to attack this form again. But first, when you click “parent of student” you have to submit the student’s login and password. And then your own. I do remember writing these usernames and IDs down right around this time last year and the year before and the year before that, to make sure that I wouldn’t forget them. I eventually found the small post-it I had put into an otherwise unused file drawer (because who in their right mind files things on paper these days?) Victoriously, I entered all the things, all the ways. It didn’t work. For the third year in a row, I had to reset all the passwords, which really, I could have done right at the outset, but I guess as a scrupulous mom, I thought I could avoid this waste of time and save myself the frustration of going to my email to get the code to enter on the screen to get the username and then change the password after getting yet another code in my email — by spending the thirty-five minutes it took to track down the useless piece of paper.
But okay, I got to do both instead! — and now I have saved my user ID, my son’s user ID, my husband’s user ID, and the website helpfully suggests I click the “renew” button instead of starting a new form. So I do. And hey — it saves me typing…oh wait. First I have to type in my son’s first name, his last name (space? or no space? this is always a dilemma with our name) and his birthday. Oh. And his social security number. Wait right here while I look that up. Again.
Every single time I save this form. I have to type all that information. Remember, this is a renewal. A renewal where nothing has changed. We still need money. Kid is still in the same college.
But okay. I am logged in. They know I belong to my son because I have been able to type all that information repeatedly (nothing can be auto-saved by my browser on this form…except the parents’ income. Why is that number saved and no other? what’s that about?) I have (yet again) looked up the kid’s college where he has been studying for two years because I don’t know the Code for the college by heart. (does anyone?) I have clicked through all the options that still haven’t changed. My son is not homeless. He is still not a foster kid. He still doesn’t have a wife or dependents.
(I get that there are a lot of people who have and need these options — I’m not complaining that they exist. I am complaining that the programmer who redesigned the FAFSA form and added the renewal option with its turquoise fonts and pretty white spaces to rest your eyes did not choose to just make a single check box that said “click here if nothing has changed from last year.”)
I have now chosen the “easier” option of having this form connect to the IRS 2020 taxes, which means that I typed in another set of passwords and read another threatening long legal document which I had no choice but to accept if I want to go on. I’m not sure why they make you click on these documents.
They might as well just start with “are you going to finish this form whether or not it is going to be mentally or physically bad for you?” and if you click no, then you get a screen that congratulates you on saving the government money. And if you click yes, then great, you keep jumping the hoops. But what’s the point of drawing up all these long legal disclaimers for the user to skim and then be forced to accept in order to move forward on the completely automated form? It’s not like you can continue if you don’t accept.
Oh right. Lawyers need to pay off their Law School student loans. I get it.
Back to the FAFSA. I have now agreed to allow the IRS to automatically send over all my personal financial information to the education office. The form now asks for…my personal financial information. Specifically; what were my earnings separate from my husband’s earnings in 2020.
You know what I have to do now, right?
I have to haul out the 2020 taxes so that I can look those numbers up. Because while the IRS is allowed to show the info to the education department, they are not allowed to show the information to ME, the taxpayer.
Okay. It has been about half an hour while I find that paperwork. Back to the form. Oh glorious. Now I am stuck with an error message telling me that the form can no longer be saved — probably because it took me so long to find the 2020 Taxes (which again, are in paper in my house — what happens to the people who filed digitally and have to open many other windows and find those passwords? I do not know, perhaps they are riding around on lightcycles inside of a videogame right now.) — the form requires that I reset and start over.
Let’s see: son’s name. Last name. Date of Birth. Social Security Number. (just hold on a second while I look that up….)
Eventually it is done. I sign for myself on behalf of the child whose tuition I am planning to pay. And in a truly unconscionably embarrassing moment, I realize that my son is studying abroad in Prague and can’t sign the form for himself. Perhaps I am not as scrupulous as I believed. Like my dad rushing out into the Texas heat to buy a 40K car so that his oldest kid could go to college, I click “accept” on behalf of my son, without having the text conversation giving him the login details so that he can log in, go through the 30 screens himself, and type in his own password.
I hit “submit” with a little quaver. Now the government will decide if it gives my son a loan to burden him for his first ten years of post-college life. My husband’s loan to attend NYU got sold off within months of his graduation (without his permission — the information came in an envelope via US Mail) to Discover Card.
That’s right: his student loan payments were taken over by a credit card.
So why not cut out the middleman.
An unscrupulous mom could have just charged her kid’s tuition directly to Discover Card. 5% cash back would pay for at least four little beach vacations! Granted the interest rate is currently 22.99% So okay, pay the minimum payments for the four years the kid is in college and then declare bankruptcy. Four vacations, zero FAFSA forms, and seven years of eating ramen noodles.
Of course, I have two kids, four years apart. No unscrupulous motherhood for me.
Still, I can see now why my dad bought the Sprint.