Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Of Student Loans (and Squirrels)

It’s been compared to a nightmare, a torture session and a root canal,
says the Newark Star-Ledger's Kelly Heyboer.

And according to Nancy Griesemer of the DC College Admissions Examiner 

Fear of FAFSA is a known, but treatable disease. Often it begins with math phobia or chronic avoidance of anything related to personal finances. 
And what does FAFSA stand for, anyway?  I've never been able to keep it in my head.  Probably because I wasn't paying attention in the first place.

Fearsome and Freaky Squirrel Abuse?  Oh, wait, no, that's my spouse's behavior as I'm trying to write this post.  Turns out he only wants to appreciate nature in the form of songbirds at his bird feeder.  Perfectly natural bushy-tailed rodents, on the other hand, inspire the old coot impersonation which interrupts my thought process every few minutes with window-pounding, slippered yard-charging and inventive swearing.  Yike!

But I digress.  Which is the problem with the whole squirrel saga this spring.  Anyway, FAFSA is really an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  Sounds simple enough, yes?  So why do so many of us cower in the face of this new age rite of spring?  I thought it was just me, until I Googled FAFSA, and found legions of articles and posts documenting the fear and trembling that accompanies the obligatory process of filing the odious thing--"the proverbial FAFSA 'wall' ". 

Yesterday, after the combined multi-media nagging efforts of my offspring and the program that has admitted him, I finally completed one of the two FAFSA forms we are required to submit, since he will enter at the end of one academic year and continue into another.  One down and one to go.  I used the new, improved version, courtesy of Obama era changes intended to streamline the ordeal.  I was able to complete the application online, which bypassed my mailing block issues.  For some reason, my duly-applied-for PIN did not allow linking to our completed tax form for 2008--maybe because my husband amended our return, though neither of us remember anymore, or want to go to the trouble of checking.  

The worst part was assembling the necessary, and depressing information about the current net worth of our investments.  Ultimately, most of these were not counted, because they are retirement savings of one kind or another.  What contributed to my procrastination on this task was not math phobia--I love math, and ended up with enough credits for an undeclared minor in the subject, and at one time taught statistics to math-phobic female college students.  No, it was an end-product of previous procrastination, with a large dollop of avoidance of all things financial stemming from plans gone awry in the face of a new, and more impoverished world order.

Had I forced myself to continue opening and examining and filing financial reports, despite their grim messages, I could more easily have put my hands on the needed papers.  Had I done my homework years ago and addressed the question of educational savings products and mechanisms, I would have been better prepared to understand how to categorize the money we had managed to "squirrel" away for this child's continued schooling.  And had I made a bit more progress in becoming a financial grownup, I would be further along in accepting what is, and what it's going to cost.

Another element of my FAFSA avoidance, as I think about it, is fear of numbers, though not of manipulating them mathematically.  I fear the number that will be triggered by applying for aid, the number that represents the amount of additional debt the government will determine we should assume to launch this child in the direction of self-supporting adulthood.  And I fear, too, the risk involved, which in our financial circumstances seems tantamount to a trip to Vegas.  I believe in my kid, but having to put so much money where my mouth is is scary.  

But having analyzed my FAFSA affliction, and bested the monster once again (I filled out and mailed paper FAFSA forms years ago for my eldest, in the even more complicated situation of a divorced parent), I intend to finish the second one today.  One full day before our deadline!  Of course, the online form for this year is different.  And I have to locate the numbers from a different tax file. 

If we're lucky, and this child stays in school, and his sibling joins him in a couple of years, we will be filing FAFSA forms into the foreseeable future.  So I'm going to try to get used to it.  My yearly root canal.  Oh, joy!

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