FAFSA: How To File One And Why You Should

Whether your child is getting ready for college or he or she is currently a college student, chances are you’ve heard of the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid). This application can determine whether or not your child is eligible for federal grants and student loans made available by Federal Student Aid (FSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Even if you think you make too much money, or that your child’s grades are not good enough to receive any kind of financial assistance, think again. Filling out the FAFSA is a very important part the financial aid portion of your child’s college career. This is true whether your child is preparing for freshman year or they are entering their senior year. Both incoming and current college students are highly encouraged to submit this form each year. It can not only grant your child federal financial aid, but states and colleges will use information from your FAFSA to evaluate if you qualify for their assistance programs.

The FAFSA is now available for filing beginning October 1st instead of January 1st, a change that was made in 2016. This gives students and parents a head start on finding a way to fill that college funding gap, which can decrease the stress levels during the whole college planning process.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

What exactly does the FAFSA consist of?

The FAFSA includes questions regarding both parent/guardian and the student, including basic personal information, such as name, address, Social Security Number and completed education. It will also include questions about income and financial standing, for yourself as the parent, as well as for the student.

Be sure to have the following information handy for both yourself and your child when filling out the FAFSA:

  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Alien Registration number (for non-U.S. citizens)
  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information
    • IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
    • Records of untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits
  • Financial account balances including checking and savings accounts, investment accounts and business and farm assets
  • The colleges to which your child will apply

How do I fill out the FAFSA?              

You can fill out the FAFSA online at https://fafsa.gov/. This is the most convenient option because you can save all of your necessary documents to your computer and you will also be able to check the status of your application once it’s been submitted. Additionally, if you are eligible, you may take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This service transfers your 2016 tax information to your FAFSA, which can be a huge time saver. If you fill out your FAFSA online, you will need to first create a FSA ID, for yourself as well as for the student. This allows you and your child to sign the FAFSA electronically. Once you create your FSA ID, you will be able to begin your FAFSA, and all of the information you provided when setting up your FSA ID will prefill within the application. When creating the FSA ID, it is very important to make sure you enter all information accurately to avoid any incorrect details appearing on your FAFSA.

You can also fill out a paper-version FAFSA. It’s important to note that submitting the paper-version FAFSA rather than the online application will significantly delay the entire application process. Using the online FAFSA application makes your experience faster and more convenient. But, if you choose to use the paper-version, the links provided below offer a fillable PDF. You can type in your answers and print it out or print out a blank FAFSA and handwrite your answers.

FAFSA for 2018 – 2019 School Year (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019)

FAFSA for 2017 – 2018 School Year (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018)

(Note: These came right from FAFSA so they are legitimate, we promise: https://fafsa.ed.gov/options.htm)

It typically takes about 30 minutes to complete the FAFSA form. The Federal Student Aid website also includes much more detailed and specific information about filling out the FAFSA.

How much aid will I receive?

Once you submit the FAFSA, it will be delivered to the school(s) you listed on the form. The college’s financial aid office will determine the Cost of Attendance (COA), as well as your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The cost of attendance determines how much it will cost for your child to attend the school for one school year and takes into consideration tuition, room and board, books and more. The EFC is calculated using the information provided on your FAFSA. The financial aid staff will subtract your EFC from the COA to determine your financial need. Once your child is accepted to any of the listed schools, he or she will receive a letter from the college stating how much aid he or she can receive and what sources that aid will come from – federal or state aid, or assistance from the college itself.

When does the FAFSA have to be completed?

When preparing for any type of milestone that requires serious financial commitment, completing all necessary steps as soon as possible is always your best bet. When it comes to FAFSA filing deadlines, there are federal and state deadlines, as well as deadlines for specific colleges. It also depends on the school year for which you are applying.

You can view deadlines based on your specific circumstances here: https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm?sf64104297=1#.

Paying for college is undeniably one of the most stressful parts of the whole college-bound process. Luckily, there are tons of resources out there to help you out. It also helps to talk with other parents and students who have already gone through it all.

Do you have any tips of your own? Share them in the comments below!

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