Starting the Financial Aid Process with the FAFSA Application

Going to college is expensive, and it seems to get more expensive every year. That’s why parents and students turn to the FAFSA application to explore their chances of obtaining financial help for college expenses.AdobeStock_78887285

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for financial aid, which can take the form of grants, loans, and work-study funds.

Every year, billions of dollars are handed out to eligible students who submit a FAFSA application. But those funds aren’t available to you if you don’t apply. Believe it or not, it’s recommended that every student considering college fill out the FAFSA form. Some students think they won’t qualify for financial aid because their parents earn too much money, or they already have a college savings plan. However, what a lot of students and parents don’t realize is that the majority of students who submit a FAFSA are eligible for at least some form of funding. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2014-2015 school year, 86% of first-time, full-time undergrads received some type of financial aid.

One important thing to note is that the FAFSA should be submitted every year you’re attending college. The deadline for submitting a FAFSA application varies depending on which state you live in and what school year the aid is for. To determine which deadline applies to you, visit Regardless of when your FAFSA deadline is, you should keep in mind that some schools award financial aid on a “first-come, first-served” basis, so it’s best to apply as soon as possible. You can submit your application as early as October 1st each year.

Before you jump into your application, you should first determine whether you qualify as a “dependent” student, or an “independent” student. This distinction is very important, as a dependent student must enter both their own financial information, and their parents’ financial information on the form, while an independent student only needs to enter their own information. To help determine which type of student you are, visit

It’s also important to gather some specific information and items before starting the application process, such as:

  • Driver’s license or other eligible form of government ID
  • Previous year’s tax returns for students and/or parents
  • Social Security numbers for students and/or parents (or Alien Registration Numbers for non-U.S. citizens)
  • Federal school codes for the school you’re attending, or the schools you’ll be applying to
  • Records of untaxed income, such as child support
  • Other important financials like bank statements and investment records

You can easily complete and submit your application online, just be sure to do so via the official FAFSA website: Keep in mind that FAFSA will never charge you to submit an application, so if you see any mention of fees, or are prompted to enter your credit card information, it should serve as a warning that you’re on site that is not affiliated or endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education.

If you submit your application on the FAFSA website, it will be processed faster than if you sent in your application by postal mail, and it’s likely to be more accurate because the FAFSA website is designed to automatically catch common errors. With an online application, you can also save and continue your FAFSA form at any time using an FSA ID. An FSA ID consists of a username and password that can be used to log into the FAFSA website.

It’s important to go into the FAFSA application process with a clear head, and be careful not to rush through the form. Providing the wrong information on a FAFSA application could delay processing and impact your chances of getting financial assistance. Here are some common errors to watch out for when completing your form:

  • Entering the wrong permanent address;
  • Leaving fields empty. Blank fields can cause miscalculations and ultimately lead to a rejected application. To avoid this, enter a “0” or “not applicable” instead of leaving a field blank, if it doesn’t apply to you;
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number. Double and triple-check these numbers to ensure they are entered accurately;
  • Forgetting to sign and date the application;
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Numbers should always be rounded to the nearest dollar;
  • Listing student or parent marital statuses incorrectly;
  • Entering the wrong amount of federal income tax paid. You should obtain this amount from your income tax return, NOT your W-2 form;
  • Listing your “Adjusted Gross Income” as equal to your “Total Income”. These figures are different; generally, Adjusted Gross Income is larger than Total Income;
  • Forgetting to list the college(s) the student is applying to, or planning on attending.

Although there’s a lot involved with submitting a FAFSA application, it can greatly pay off in the end. There’s a good chance you could receive the funding necessary to make your college dreams a reality, but you’ll never know unless you take the time to apply.

How Safe are Paper Checks?

There was a time when people didn’t give a second thought to paying their bills by check and sending them out via postal mail. But with all the fraud going on in the world today, you may be wondering just how safe those paper checks really are.AdobeStock_39616999

The truth is that checks can pose a host of problems from a security standpoint. For one, the front of a check typically contains an abundance of sensitive information such as name, address, financial institution, routing number, and bank account number – quite the payload for a crook.

To make matters worse, there are some retailers and government entities that require you to write your driver’s license number or Social Security number on a check before they will accept it. And after the check is handed over, there’s no telling how many employees could have access to that information.

If your check falls into the hands of someone who isn’t trustworthy, it could open a Pandora’s Box down the road, including identity theft and account takeover. Just by having the account and routing numbers, thieves can go on an online spending spree.

And even if you limit your check writing to just paying a few bills by postal mail each month, there’s still a possibility that your mail could be intercepted along the way. According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, in an average year it responds to more than 27,000 consumer fraud complaints, including reports of identity theft. And, it arrests around 10,000 criminal suspects each year for crimes like mail theft and possession of stolen mail.

It’s also important to keep in mind that if fraudulent transactions occur as a result of thieves stealing your bank account information from a check, your legal protections are generally more limited than if your credit card was compromised. In most cases, financial institutions require that any check-related fraud be reported within 2 days, or you could be liable for up to $500 of the fraudulent transactions. What’s more, if you fail to report the fraud within 60 days, you could be liable for all the money that was stolen. It’s worth noting that some financial institutions offer more extensive liability protection for check-related fraud, but they’re not required to by law.

Given how easy it could be for a criminal to access your personal and banking information via a paper check, you might be asking – should I use them at all? The truth is that checks are still around for a reason, and in some cases they still could be your best bet.

  • They can help you avoid extra fees – In some cases, government agencies or utility companies may accept credit card and debit card payments, but charge extra for them. If you’re looking to pay your car tax bill, and you’re going to be slapped with a fee for paying with a card, you might be better off sticking a check in the mail.
  • You can still make payments during a power outage – If your community is hit with a hurricane or other major weather event, you could find yourself without power for days. Unfortunately, you’ll likely still be expected to pay your bills on time. If you don’t have access to the internet to make online payments, you may find yourself needing to pay by check.
  • Not everyone accepts credit card payments – Believe it or not, some independent contractors and small, local businesses don’t accept credit card payments. For a lot of businesses like photographers, home improvement contractors, and flea market vendors, checks are still preferred over credit cards.

So, if you do find that having a checkbook is a necessity for your lifestyle and current financial situation, just keep these tips in mind to help avoid becoming a victim of check fraud:

  • Use online bill pay whenever possible so that payments are withdrawn directly from your checking account without you having to write a check. Another option is to use a peer-to-peer payment system like PopMoney, PayPal or Venmo to pay bills, friends or contractors.
  • Limit the number of paper checks you write as much as possible. That includes reducing or eliminating altogether the use of checks at physical retail locations.
  • If paying bills by postal mail, drop off the mail at a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or at the post office. These mailboxes are typically much more secure than your personal mailbox at home. And make it hard to tell that there are checks in the envelopes, by covering them in plain white paper, or using security tint envelopes.
  • Never carry around a checkbook or blank checks with you. If your purse is stolen, or you lose your checkbook, a crook could easily get their hands on your personal and financial information.
  • Always write a specific name of a business or person on the line that says “Pay to the order of.” And never write “Cash” in this space. If the check is misplaced or stolen, and it says “Cash”, anyone can cash it.
  • Check your bank statements online at least once a week to ensure that any checks you have written are being cashed and that no fraudulent activity is occurring with your account.

Paper checks can still be helpful in some instances, but it’s important to know the risks associated with them. By keeping these precautions in mind, you can help to keep your bank account, and your checks, as safe as possible.

You Have Choices When Your CD Matures

If you have a CD reaching maturing soon, have you given thought to what you’d like to do with the funds in it? Deciding what path to take when a CD matures isn’t as easy as coming to a fork in the road. There are actually quite a few options available. It’s just a matter of weighing all those options, and then choosing the one that’s right for you.choices-when-your-cd-matures

Before exploring your choices, it’s important to note that your financial institution is required to notify you in advance before your CD matures. Once you receive that notification, you typically have only a week or two to decide what you’d like to do with your funds. If you don’t instruct your bank on what to do with your CD when it matures, they will make the decision for you. In most cases, the financial institution will automatically roll over the funds to another CD with a term length similar to your old one. But beware – the new CD may have a lower interest rate than your old CD. To prevent your money from ending up stuck in a CD with an undesirable rate, it’s a good idea to make your own informed decision about your funds when your CD matures, rather than letting your bank make the choice.

  • One option available to you is to deposit additional funds into the CD and then roll it over into a new term. Unless your CD is an “add-on” CD, your maturity period is likely your only opportunity to add funds to your existing balance. If you decide to go this route however, be sure that you know what rate you will receive for the new term before you agree to it.
  • If you have a big purchase on the horizon, it may be a good time to withdraw the funds. Typically, CD maturity is the only time you can pull your funds out of a CD without incurring an early withdrawal penalty. Taking your money out of a CD once it matures can be ideal if you have specific objective in mind, such as placing a down payment on a house or buying a new car.
  • If you think you may need the funds in the not-too-distant future, but don’t have an immediate need for them, your best bet may be to withdraw the money and place it in an interest-bearing savings or checking account. By taking the money out of your CD, it will no longer be tied up for a locked-in time period, and you’ll have the flexibility of withdrawing it without penalty whenever you’re ready.
  • Another option is to pursue a different investment vehicle, depending on your level of risk tolerance, and your financial goals. Other investment opportunities could include stocks or bonds, retirement accounts, or college savings plans. Just remember that it’s always a good idea to consult with a tax professional or an investment advisor before making any major investment decisions.
  • If you’d like to keep your money in a CD, another possibility is to choose an entirely different CD to roll your money into. You could go with a different CD at the same financial institution, or you could open a new CD at another bank or credit union. Sites like can useful when comparing CDs across multiple financial institutions.
  • Depending how much money is in the maturing CD, you may want to consider splitting the funds and placing them into two or more new CDs with varying term lengths. This strategy is referred to as “CD laddering”. Generally speaking, CD laddering involves buying a series of CDs with different terms so they mature at different intervals. So over the course of the CDs’ various term lengths you’ll have access to funds on an ongoing basis, because you’ll have a CD regularly reaching maturity.

No matter where you are in your financial journey, if you have a CD reaching maturity it’s important to think proactively about your goals and immediate financial needs before determining what to do with your funds. A little planning goes a long way, and you’ll thank yourself later!

Stay Safe And Secure While Banking Online

No one likes to be taken advantage of. But in today’s world of online banking, there are plenty of cyber thieves looking to do just that to unsuspecting

That’s why it’s important to always be on high alert when conducting online banking transactions and related financial activity via the internet. At Bank5 Connect, your online security is one of our highest priorities. So much so that we want to share some best practices to keep your online bank accounts safe and secure, whether they’re with Bank5 Connect or another financial institution.

  • Consider using a separate computer exclusively for online banking to protect it from malicious software, also known as malware. Malware is often contracted while browsing the web, using social networks, sending and receiving email, or playing online games.
  • Use online or mobile banking to check your accounts on a regular basis, such as once or twice a week. Frequent checks will help you identify, and act on, any suspicious activity.
  • Take advantage of email or text message alerts offered by most banks. These account notifications can alert you when your balance falls below a certain level or when there is a transaction over a certain amount. Some banks offer alerts for suspicious account activity as well.
  • Set strong, unique passwords and change them on a regular basis. You should use passwords that are at least 8 characters long and include a combination of symbols, capital and lowercase letters, and numbers. And remember to make your passwords hard to crack. It’s never a good idea to use common words, or the names of family members or pets as passwords.
  • Never use the same password for several accounts, and don’t share your passwords with anyone.
  • Always fully log out of your online banking sessions. And once you’re logged out, close your browser for additional security.
  • When you’re logged into online banking, never leave your computer or device unattended.
  • Update your device’s security software, operating system and browser on a regular basis.
  • Only conduct your online banking business from a secure internet connection. Never log into your account from a public computer, or a public Wi-Fi network. Free Wi-Fi in a hotel or coffee shop might be convenient, but it’s not worth the security risk. If you must access your online banking account on-the-go, it’s much safer to use your phone’s cellular network than a public Wi-Fi connection.
  • If you’re using a computer for online banking, ensure that it has firewall protection. A firewall creates a barrier between your computer and an external network, such as the internet. This controls incoming and outgoing network traffic and helps screen out cyber criminals, malware and other damaging intrusions.
  • Make sure you’re using an encrypted wireless connection at home.

Being vigilant about your online security, and staying on top of your account activity can go a long way toward protecting your bank account from cyber criminals. But remember, if you do spot any suspicious transactions in your account, alert your financial institution immediately. The sooner you identify fraud and notify your bank, the greater your chance of a speedy resolution.

For more information on how to stay safe online, visit

A Convenient One-Stop Option To Pay Bills

Imagine life without having to pay bills. Talk about heavenly bliss! But the painful reality is that almost all of us have to deal with bills. Some of us are better equipped to handle the stress and inconvenience of paying bills than others. But the good news is that automatic bill pay exists to help make the chore of paying bills a little easier.AdobeStock_145451274

Automatic bill pay – sometimes referred to as “online bill pay” or just “bill pay” – takes away the juggling act of remembering which bills are due when. It allows you to schedule your recurring payments online so they come directly out of your bank account when they’re due. Many banks even offer their own automatic bill pay systems, which allow you to view your various bills and schedule their payments in one central spot.

Think about that – no need to keep track of paper bills and making sure you pay them on time. No need to write out checks or purchase stamps and envelopes to mail them. No need to second-guess whether you actually included the invoice or the check in that envelope!

Timely bill payments, incidentally, are one of the biggest factors that make up your credit score. And because automatic bill pay helps you to pay your bills on time, it can have a major, positive impact on your credit report. By having your bills set up to be paid automatically on or before their due dates, you reduce the risk of late payments and resulting late fees – you just need to make sure you have enough money in your bank account to cover your scheduled payments

For this reason, when scheduling automatic bill payments, it’s a good idea to set up electronic alerts if they’re available. These notifications can inform you via email or text message when your payment is coming due, which can help you ensure you have sufficient funds in your account. And in most cases you can also set up alerts with your bank’s Online Banking system, and have them notify you when your account balance dips to a certain threshold.

From a security standpoint, payments made through automatic bill pay are also safer than check payments sent out through the mail. When you make an online bill payment, your sensitive personal and account information is encrypted, keeping it out of the hands of criminals. The same can’t be said of check payments. If a crook intercepts the envelope containing your check payment, they not only have access to your account information, but they’ll likely have your name and address as well.

One potential drawback of automatic bill pay however, is that some consumers may rely too heavily on it to manage their finances. In other words, they “set it and forget it”. When using automatic bill pay, it’s still important to monitor your scheduled payments to ensure the correct amounts are being paid at the right times.

Automatic bill pay can also be detrimental to your budgeting goals if you lose sight of what’s going on with your finances. Even if your payments are coming out of your account automatically, it’s still important to stay organized and on top of how much money is coming in and going out of your account every month.

Another thing to keep in mind that is that automatic bill pay might not be a good fit for bills that fluctuate heavily from month to month, such as credit card or utility bills. For instance, if you end up with a higher bill than expected one month, it could cause you to overdraw your account, leaving you with overdraft or insufficient funds fees.

Overall, automatic bill pay can a great tool to help you manage your bills and achieve on-time payments. It’s just important to remember that it isn’t an excuse to get lazy with your finances.

Switching Banks Can Be Easier Than You Think

Maybe it’s overbearing fees or lousy customer service. Or maybe you just landed a new job and have to relocate across the country. Whatever the reason, you’re faced with the need to switch banks.AdobeStock_63753131

Moving from one financial institution to another is almost like a juggling act. There are plenty of balls in the air that you need to keep an eye on as you shut down your old account and open a new one. That’s why it’s a good idea to map out a strategy in advance.

Here are some steps to follow to help make switching banks as painless as possible:

  1. Do your homework. Research what financial institutions would be a good fit for you. Choices range from a traditional bank or credit union to an online-only bank.
  2. Make your choice and open an account. Once you have an idea about what type of financial institution you’d like to work with, dig deeper. Will you need to maintain a minimum balance once you open the account? What kinds of fees can you expect? What interest rate do they offer on savings or checking accounts? Do they have a lot of ATMs you can use? Do they offer Online and Mobile Banking? Contemplating these questions will help ensure that you choose an account that best suits your needs. Once your choice is made, gather all of the documentation and information you’ll need to open the account. And don’t close your old accounts just yet.
  3. Order what you’ll need. When you open your account, don’t forget to place an order for things like checks and debit cards. The sooner you can get those and start using them instead of your old ones, the quicker you can cut ties with your old bank. You should also register for Online Banking if your bank offers it, and set up any automatic account alerts you’d like to receive via text message or email. And remember to download your new bank’s mobile app if you’ll be doing your banking on-the-go.
  4. Get some money into your new account. If you plan to use direct deposit, provide your employer with your new bank account and routing numbers, and find out how long it will take for the update to happen. It’s also a good idea to transfer some money over from your old account, but be careful not to move so much money over that you’re in danger of overdrafting the account or not meeting your old bank’s minimum balance requirements.
  5. Update online payment info. If you utilize online payment services like PayPal or Stripe, you’ll want to update the bank account info that’s tied to them so any future payments will come out of your new accounts. You should also compile a list of all the electronic payments you make – automatic or otherwise – and ensure that the payment details on those accounts reflect your new financial institution. If you were using bill pay at your old bank, you should set up all of those same automatic payments through your new accounts.
  6. Double check everything. Once you’ve covered all of your bases and are ready to close your old accounts – don’t. At least not yet. It’s a good idea to double check and confirm that your direct deposits are going into your new account as intended, that all of the checks you’ve written from your old account have cleared, and that all of your electronic payments are successfully coming out of your new account.
  7. Close out your old account. Once you can confirm that everything is A-OK with your new account, it’s time to cut the cord with your old bank. Any money that you have left in your old accounts should be transferred over to your new ones, and you should inform your old bank of your decision to close out the accounts. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recommends getting written confirmation that your accounts have been closed.

And if you’re concerned that switching banks might have a negative impact on your credit score, there’s no need to worry. Closing a deposit account – or opening one – will have no bearing on your credit report. Keep in mind though that abusing a bank account (for example, writing bad checks, or not repaying a negative balance) could prevent you from opening another bank account in the future, as this kind of activity is tracked and reported on by agencies like Chexsystems.

No matter what your reason for making the switch to a new bank, taking the time to plan ahead will help to make the move as easy and stress-free as possible.