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Financial Aid

 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) 101

Looking for some extra help to pay for school? The U.S. Department of Education provides more than $80 billion a year in grants, loans, and work-study assistance for college and career school students. Most students are eligible for federal financial aid but you’ll need to apply to get it. The first step is to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid–otherwise known as FAFSA.

 

The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for grants or scholarships from your state or school. While you can submit a FAFSA as late as June, many state and individual school financial aid deadlines are in February and March. You may need to file your FAFSA before you file your income tax return, but financial aid experts all say the same thing: the sooner you apply, the better.

 

Quick FAFSA Facts:

 

The purpose of FAFSA is to determine how much money you and your family can contribute toward paying for your college education. This is called your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The school(s) you apply to will use your EFC together with their Cost of Attendance to figure out how much financial aid they can offer you for that year. You have to fill out a FAFSA every year you are in school. However...

 

  • Once you get a FAFSA P.I.N (Personal Identification Number), it can be used again every year that you apply for federal financial aid.
  • You don’t have to be accepted at a school before you can submit your FAFSA. All you need to do is list which school you have applied to.
  • According to FAFSA, being a “Dependent” for federal financial aid is not the same thing as being a dependent on tax returns. Even if you don’t live with your parents anymore, or are not claimed by them as a dependent on their taxes, you may still be defined as a dependent according to FAFSA
  • FAFSA is available both on paper and online. Stick with online since it’s faster and more efficient.
  • Once you save your FAFSA online, you are granted 45 days to add to it and make any final tweaks that you may need to.
  • If you qualify for a Pell Grant, this will be granted automatically. The FAFSA questions will help determined whether or not you quality for other federal grants.


Timing on FAFSA

 

FAFSA application period runs from January 1 of any given year to June 30 of the following year. This 18–month period allows for financial aid coverage for summer school programs at both ends of the traditional September to May school calendar year.

 

For example, as of January 2011, if the education program you want to enroll in begins between January 1st and June 30th, 2010 (spring 2010 semester and early summer), fill out the 2010–2011 FAFSA. If your education program that you’re looking to enroll in starts after June 30th, 2010 fill out the 2010–2011 FAFSA. 

 

Requirements

 

  1. If you plan to submit your FAFSA online, you’ll need a P.I.N. from the U.S. Department of Education.
    Note** Your parent(s) must also have a PIN too if the FAFSA defines you as a dependent student
  2. Your Social Security Number and the SSN of the parents for who you are claimed as a dependent
  3. If you are not a U.S. citizen, your alien registration number
  4. Several tax and financial documents (listed below)
  5. The Federal school code for each school you want to apply to (these school codes can be found through the online FAFSA)

 

3 Steps to take apply for FAFSA:

 

  • Step 1: Download a paper application or get a PIN

    • By Mail:

      1. Download a PDF copy of the application from either the FAFSA website or call the Federal Student Aid Center (1–800–4–FED–AID)
      2. Take a look at the federal student aid website to find the federal school code for each school you plan to apply to

    • Online:

      1. Apply for your PIN online at www.pin.ed.gov
      2. Your PIN allows you to “sign” your online FAFSA and allows access to your FAFSA file every year that you apply
      3. Apply for your PIN as soon as possible since processing your request will take anywhere from 2–5 business days. Don’t forget to have your parents file for a PIN if the FAFSA defines you as a dependent student
      4. Provide an email address so that you can speed up the PIN process


  • Step 2: Gather all the documents necessary to fill out the FAFSA worksheet

    • Here’s a quick list of what financial documents you’ll need for FAFSA:

      • Your Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)
      • Your driver’s license if you have one
      • Your most recent bank statements
      • Your W–2 Forms and other records of money earned
      • Your Federal Income Tax Return (and your spouse’s, if you are married): IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, foreign tax return, or tax return
      • Your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return, if you meet the FAFSA criteria for a dependent student
      • Your untaxed income records – Social Security, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, welfare, or veterans’ benefits records
      • If applicable, your most recent business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records


  • Step 3: Dedicate a few hours to fill out the application

    • Filling out the FAFSA isn’t a quick 5–minute application process–it takes careful thought and time. You’ll want to make sure you’re doing it correctly so it’s important to put aside from time to really focus on filling out the application.

      • There are online instructions provided for each question and there is live online help with a customer service representative should you get stuck with a particular question
      • FAFSA online is designed to find mistakes and prompt you to correct them
      • Since this is a comprehensive application, you can fill out all the questions at once or save your application for later changes and updates. You have 45 days from when you first submit information or until the application deadline passes.
      • Once you click “Submit my FAFSA NOW”, your information is immediately sent to the Department of Education

 

Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid:

 

According to the American Student Assistance website, the biggest FAFSA mistakes and longest delays in finding out how much aid you will get come from mistakes in the application and essential information being left out of the application. Make sure you:


  1. Sign your application! As obvious as this may seem, this can be an easy thing to overlook after you’ve spent a few hours looking at the application. The FAFSA is not considered valid until you have signed it. Use your PIN to sign your online application (and your parents with their PIN if you are claimed as a dependent). This is why it’s important to get your PIN issued to you as soon as possible.
  2. Include your untaxed income. Listing untaxed income is one of the more common mistakes that are overlooked by both the student and their parents. Use the worksheets at the end of the FAFSA document to figure out how to report untaxed income.
  3. Make sure your earned income is calculated correctly. Add Box 5 of your W–2 statements to line A.4 or B.6 of Schedule SE.

 

Congratulations for reading this far! The FAFSA may seem long and tedious but remember, if done properly, you can get federal financial aid awarded early and correctly if you collect and submit all your information ahead of time. Don’t wait and get started today!

    

 
     
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