If you’re a high school senior or college student seeking financial aid this is the time of year to start getting your information together to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms, better know as FAFSA. This process should be at the forefront of your mind. But what is FAFSA and who should apply for it?
Nearly all colleges and universities use FAFSA to determine eligibility for federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work study programs. FAFSA is the form used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) by conducting a “need analysis” based on financial information such as income, assets and other household information, which you (and your parents if you are a dependent student) will be asked to provide. Many states and institutions also use information from the FAFSA form to determine eligibility for their different grant and loan programs. Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid and every student should apply for it whether or not they expect to receive it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking filling out the FAFSA is not worth your time. Even if you are not eligible for certain grants, if you don’t apply for FAFSA you cannot borrow federal loans such as Stafford direct unsubsidized student loans. These loans are available to every student no matter if they qualify as needing it or not. But you only qualify if you apply. Some colleges expect families to submit the FAFSA even if they only expect merit aid. FAFSA is your way of notifying the college that you are interested in any money in the pool that may be available to you.
You might be wondering how to get started. It is simple. FAFSA is available online through the government website and should only take you a short time to complete. Be sure to use www.fafsa.ed.gov when applying. There is a www.fafsa.com website but it is not free and not the official FAFSA website. Remember the first F in FAFSA stands for FREE, if a website asks you for any money, that is a sure sign that you are in the wrong place.
The FAFSA is available to be completed on January 1st of the year that your student will be attending college. That’s a full 9 months before college starts in September. After you’ve filled it out and have it ready to go, the next important thing to remember are the FAFSA deadlines. There are federal and state deadlines for the FAFSA and the colleges your student is applying too will also have a deadline. It is very important to have a calendar of all the requirements and deadlines for every college you apply for.
One big mistake families make is to think that they should wait until after they file their taxes to apply for financial aid. Don’t do that, the sooner you apply the better off you will be. Just understand if you’re completing the FAFSA prior to completing your tax return you will be making estimates. You will need to return to the site and update your FAFSA once you’ve completed your tax return, which is perfectly acceptable. It is better to estimate and file early than to wait until you’ve completed your tax return to file. By the time you have your taxes done, some or all of the preferable financial aid that you might have gotten, could have already been allocated.
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