The cost of a college education is so high these days that few families can send their children to school without student aid. But filing is not easy. These seven tips should help.
There are hundreds of scholarships, grants and student loan programs to help lighten the load, and most require you to fill out one vital form before you apply.
That’s the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA), the gateway to all of the federal, state and institutional student aid programs available. Even private education lenders usually require the student to fill out a FAFSA first. Filling out this form is as crucial as choosing a school.
Here are some useful tips about the FAFSA to help you through this potentially confusing, but crucial stage of college planning.
1) The earlier you file, the better. Do not procrastinate and make sure that you meet the state and school deadlines. Student aid is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis. You can complete the FAFSA between Oct. 1 and June 30, but check online and with the schools that you are considering. If you are late to apply, aid might be unavailable.
2) There is an online tool to help get an idea of what aid you might be eligible for, called FAFSA4caster. This helps students and families prepare financially for college before applying for federal student aid, which usually has better terms than other types. It provides an estimate of federal student aid eligibility by instantly calculating an estimated expected family contribution (EFC), the indicator that estimates a family’s or a student’s ability to contribute toward the cost of an education after high school.
3) Collect all the documents needed to apply, including income tax returns, W-2 forms, investment account statements, etc. before beginning the process. If you didn’t complete your tax return yet, you can estimate the tax information, apply and correct the information later.
4) Go to the FAFSA website to find the form and apply for aid. Before filling out the FAFSA form, you need to sign up for a FAFSA ID/PIN (personal identification number). A PIN lets you apply, electronically sign and make corrections to your online application. Both the parent and the student each need to apply for their own FAFSA ID. This can take 1-3 business days to receive the ID numbers so apply for these prior to when you want to fill out the form. Once you complete the form, the parent and the student each will sign the form using their FAFSA ID. After graduation, the student uses their PIN to sign in to make changes, contact the U.S. Department of Education and repay loans.
5) Once you complete the application and the form is processed, you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). Review the SAR and submit corrections and for reprocessing, if necessary. The report contains your expected family contribution.
6) The school may ask you for verification so you need to keep your tax returns and other documents handy. Be sure to meet the schools deadlines or you may not receive federal student aid.
7) Stay in touch with the financial aid office and make sure that they receive all of your information. Remember this process for next year. You need to fill out the FAFSA every year your child is in school.
If you get stuck, the online FAFSA site also has a link to videos to help guide you. The help and hints button is also very helpful.
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