Truly Blessed

ALS patient James Martin shares his journey.

College Financial Aid

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James Martin
Wednesday, August 8, 2012

There is a great country blue grass song made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford called "16 Tons."  It chronicles life as a coal miner in the thirties.  The chorus is:                   You load sixteen tons what do you get           Another day older and deeper in debt           Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go           I owe my soul to the company store.

When I was seventeen I began my descent into painful debt by starting college and continuing on to law school.   I was reminded of that song and always thought that it was applicable to college with a slight lyric modification.

           You load sixteen credits what do you get           Another day older and deeper in debt           Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go           I owe my soul in student loans. 

I freed my indentured soul years ago and falsely believed that I was forever free.  But with college aged children comes the grim reaper of the family budget, the financial aid office.  Frodo had an easier time returning that ring than parents do submitting the required information for financial aid.

The process begins with a form called FAFSA.   I cannot share what that stands for as I want this to be a PG blog.  It is fair to say that the process is similar to having a colonoscopy performed by an inebriated IRS agent.  

The financial aid offices want to know everything imaginable about our finances in order to determine what "aid" will be provided to our ADULT children.  Of course I have no ability to speak to their professors, control their curfew, direct their majors, or get their grades because they are adults.  But for some reason our income, or lack thereof, is relevant to the aid our adult children get. 

To properly complete the FAFSA form I must utilize my tax  returns.  Like those have any basis in reality.  I can't comprehend the difference between a W2, W4, a 1040EZ and a 1040 Schedule ABC.  That is why I have an accountant.  He makes wild assumptions about my gibberish of documentation when applied to the 13,000,000 rules contained in the tax code and voila, my taxes are magically done.  

With the power of the internet that tax information may be accessed.  And with a couple of clicks of my mouse,  my tax return is imputed into the FAFSA which then becomes FUBAR.

My favorite question on the FAFSA form was: How much are you going to contribute to your child's education?   My answer was "substantially more than the lefty ivory towered profs who wear socks with Birkenstock sandals." For some reason the form didn't accept that answer, it wanted a number. Then I remembered my college calculus class where I learned about "imaginary numbers" (which are the same numbers used in the federal budget.). It wouldn't accept that either; so I settled on twenty bucks.   I could tell the form wasn't pleased but I was allowed to move on.  

Three hours later I was able to electronically sign the form after swearing, affirming, crossing my heart and promising to die if I was lying.   Electronically signing is really easy, much easier than sign language. And I was able to do it with just one finger, bet you can guess which one. 

The forms have been done for sometime and multiple times additional information has been needed. It seems to be a never ending struggle, but the end is in sight, my oldest will graduate in December.  Only five more kids and sixteen more years of FAFSAs. 

St. Peter don't you call me, cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the FAFSA form. 

Last updated: 10:46 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

James Martin is a former attorney and graduate of Gonzaga University and Marquette Law School. He lives in Spring Prairie near Burlington. He has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He is married with 6 kids. James is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the Gazette staff or management.

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