I’ve received several emails today about IDOC, which is the College Board’s Institutional Documentation Service.  If your student is applying to an out-of-state college, and you recently completed the CSS Profile, there is a good chance that you have or will soon receive an IDOC email.

So what does it mean?

IDOC serves as a central aggregator of your financial paperwork.  You can send copies of your tax return and W2s to IDOC, and they will then forward the documentation to the colleges on your child’s list.  It was created to make the entire financial aid application process easier.   But, like so many good ‘paper’ concepts, IDOC in practice seems to be more confusing than helpful.  Why? Well, not all schools subscribe to IDOC, and instead many of them want you to send your tax returns to them directly.  And still other schools don’t need (or want) your tax returns at all; rather they want you to simply update the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (the ‘DRT’).

Whoa!  Slow down, College Pete! That’s a lot of acronyms!

Trust me.  I get it.  I’ve been navigating my way  through, over and around the maze of regulation, requirements, paperwork and loopholes (yes, loopholes) that comprise the financial aid process for years — well before they introduced helpful, facilitative services like IDOC.  But  as complicated as the process is, it’s absolutely nothing compared to facing the alternative challenge of paying 50-Large a year out-of-pocket (or worse, through debt) for college.  The point is you literally can’t afford to be scared off by the process… you need to arm yourself with the right advice.  If you are depending on a singular strategy like FL Prepaid or a 529 to cover the full freight, you’re only going to cover a small fraction of the total cost.  The financial aid process can be uber-complicated, with the various forms, rules, and deadlines; but it is a phenomenal price neutralizer if you know how it works.  Consider that only 3% of all families have enough saved to pay for college for all of their children, whereas about 66% of students qualify for some type of discount, either merit- or need-based through this process.

I meet with hundreds of families each year.  Many of them should qualify for some type of need-based aid, but even extremely high income/high net-worth families who have little or no chance at need-based aid can reduce the price and make college more affordable, assuming they have the benefit of a prudent and integrated admissions/funding strategy, and an efficient implementation of said strategy.

In any event, my position on IDOC is this: Get your taxes done!  That’s really what these IDOC emails are all about, because most colleges will not finalize your financial aid awards until your taxes are complete and they can verify that your financial aid form is consistent with your tax filing.

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