FAFSA and CSS Forms – What's the Difference?

Need based aid is determined by most schools by utilizing one of two forms: FAFSA or CSS. The difference between the cost of education and the estimated family contribution is demonstrated need.
“Two distinct formulas assess information reported in the aid application process. The traditional institutional methodology (IM), developed by the College Board and refined annually by economists and aid administrators, determines the expected family share of costs.
IM is the dominant standard among selective national colleges. Most schools that use an institutional methodology to disburse their own funds use either the CSS profile or their own FA form. The federal methodology (FM) through the filing of determines eligibility for federal aid. All schools require students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to at minimum file the FAFSA if they are requesting FA. The only thing the FAFSA does is determine one’s ability for federal aid, (pell grants, seog, stafford and perkins loans). Differences between the IM and FM models include: IM collects information on estimated academic year family income, medical expenses, elementary and secondary school tuition and unusual circumstances. FM omits these questions. IM considers a fuller range of family asset information, while FM ignores assets of siblings, all assets of certain families with less than $50,000 of income, and both home and family farm equity. FM defines income as the “adjusted gross income” on federal tax returns, plus various categories of untaxed income. IM includes in total income any paper depreciation, business, rental or capital losses which artificially reduce adjusted gross income. FM does not assume a minimum student contribution to education; IM expects the student, as primary beneficiary of the education, to devote some time each year to earning money to pay for education. FM ignores the noncustodial parent in cases of divorce or separation; IM expects parents to help pay for education, regardless of current marital status. FM and IM apply different percentages to adjust the parental contribution when multiple siblings are simultaneously enrolled in college, and IM considers only siblings enrolled in undergraduate programs. The IM expected family share represents a best estimate of a family’s capacity (relative to other families) to absorb, over time, the costs of education. It is not an assessment of cash on hand, a value judgment about how much a family should be able to use current income, or a measure of liquidity. The final determinations of demonstrated need and awards rest with the University and are based upon a uniform and consistent treatment of family circumstances.” excerpt from http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/436922-fafsa-vs-css.html
The school website and/or the financial aid office will let you know which form to submit. The FAFSA form is free, but the CSS form does have an application fee.
It is best to consult an expert as most people make mistakes on the forms. Call us 630-907-9830. We’re here to help.