Navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)


My college roommate Maddy knows the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) system well. Maddy used federal student loans to finance her undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a high school teacher, she’s dedicated a large portion of her school’s homeroom curriculum to making sure her students enter college with a better understanding of how personal finances, credit, and loan amortization work. I got together with Maddy to chat about her experience navigating the federal student loan system from start to finish and to find out what advice she has for parents and students today.


Moorea: To start off, can you tell me what degrees you have, where you went to school, and how you financed your college expenses?

Maddy: Sure. I have a BA in English from the University of Oregon, a master’s in teaching from Oregon State University, and a master’s in English from Portland State University. My undergraduate degree was funded about 30% by scholarships and 70% by federal student loans. My graduate degree from OSU was paid for 100% with federal student loans and my second graduate degree from PSU was paid for by federal loans and a tuition program through my job that covered $1,000 per term.


Moorea: Do you remember what your thought process was when you were 18 and deciding to take out your first student loan?

Maddy: Yeah, there was no thought process. I answered all the questions on the FAFSA with my mom, and at the end of the application, I clicked a box that said “Yes, Accept.” There was a very basic loan counseling page that I read, but it didn’t mean much at the time because I didn’t understand the concept of amortization. It was 2009 during the financial crisis, and everyone was taking out student loans. Debt was the expectation.

Because my parents’ expected family contribution was high, I didn’t qualify for subsidized loans (loans that don’t accrue interest until after graduation) despite them not paying anything towards my college. I didn’t know my student loans were accruing interest the whole time I was in school.


Moorea: You’re in charge of writing your school’s curriculum. Are you doing anything to prepare your students to make financial decisions after high school?

Maddy: Yes! In addition to a traditional personal finance and college prep curriculum, I walk through how to fill out the FAFSA with students page by page. I do a cost benefit analysis with students where we compare the cost of tuition at three community colleges, three states schools, and one private university. I walk my students through how many hours of a minimum wage job you’d have to work to pay off the loan over a 10-year period and explain how loan amortization works.


Moorea: What advice do you have for students and parents to help offset the cost of college?

Maddy: Consider completing your general education requirements at community college. Many Oregon students qualify for free community college through the Oregon Promise Grant.

If you’re considering attending a state school and your high school covers the cost of community college classes or offers College Now classes, take these because the credits will transfer to a university.

If you’re considering a more prestigious school or private college, focus on taking AP classes and sitting for the AP exams.

All students should volunteer as it looks good on college, scholarship, and job applications.


While it is a highly valuable asset in life, college education is a big expense, and families should discuss and plan with their financial advisor to determine how to proceed with this important life decision. If you want assistance with this planning process, please reach out to us.



Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Merriman. The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

How to Help Your Adult Children Who Are Struggling Financially

How to Help Your Adult Children Who Are Struggling Financially


Co-written by: Aimee Butler & Moorea Monaco


COVID-19 has impacted jobs across all sectors, and State Unemployment Agencies are reporting an unprecedented backlog of claims. We have been hearing from our clients of a desire to assist their adult children financially. Many of the questions include how and what kind of support to provide and if it makes sense. If you are in this situation, here are some ideas on how to temporarily assist your adult children during a financial emergency.



  • Start an emergency cash fund for your child.
    • Make a one-time deposit or smaller, more frequent deposits to a high-yield savings account (like Flourish).
    • Fun idea: Many banks or credit unions offer change deposit programs. They’ll round up your debit card purchases and transfer the extra change to a savings account. Think of it as a “Change Jar.” It adds up quicker than you think!
    • When your child encounters a financial emergency, make one-time distributions or loan them the money. Anything they payback can be put back into the savings account for future needs.
  • Gift them highly appreciated shares of stocks or mutual funds from your Non-Retirement accounts.
    • It could potentially benefit you by helping you avoid the capital gains tax if you sold the shares while they were still in your account.
    • After the shares are gifted to your child, they can choose when to sell the assets, and they will incur any capital gains tax on what is sold. Structuring your giving this way can potentially reduce taxes for the family.
    • Discuss this option with your Merriman Wealth Advisor to make sure it fits into your Financial Plan.
  • Offer small cash loans to cover emergency expenses.
    • Discuss a payment plan that can start once your child’s financial situation improves.
    • If mutually agreed upon, an interest-free loan with a small monthly payment is still more helpful than anything any bank could provide to them.
    • It never hurts to have the agreement in writing and signed by both parties.
  • If you can’t provide an infusion of cash, little gifts can still make a big difference!
    • Give gas or grocery store gift cards when you can.
    • Meal prep large casseroles or frozen meals that can be heated quickly and serve many portions.
    • Offer childcare when you can.
  • Help them review all options in their own financial life.
    • They may be able to take a special distribution from their own IRAs or 401(k)s for hardships due to COVID-19.
    • Introduce them to your Merriman advisor to help guide the review process.


  • Do not co-sign a loan for your child. As much as you want to help them, you could become liable for the loan, and it can negatively impact your credit history.
  • Do not ignore the tax ramifications of using retirement assets such as IRAs or annuities to give cash to your child. These assets can be taxed as ordinary income and have the potential of significantly increasing your income tax liability.
  • Do not stretch your own finances too thin. You need to protect your financial security first. We always recommend discussing large gifts with your Merriman Wealth Advisor, whether they be to charity or a loved one.


As parents, it can be extremely difficult to watch our children struggle financially and equally as hard to balance helping and overreaching. When making these types of decisions, we find that an objective third party like our advisors can help you make a decision that works for everyone. We encourage you to reach out if you need guidance with how best to help. We are here for you and your family.