With the rising costs of attending college, securing financial aid is becoming more important than ever. To be considered for financial aid, grant money, and a number of possible scholarships, you are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Everyone attending college should fill out the FAFSA form as early as possible according to the experts. Forms for the 2021-2022 academic year become available on October 1. If this is your first time filling out a FAFSA form, it can seem daunting, but the eight must-knows below can help you prepare for what to expect and may help the process go a little more smoothly.
1. Everyone Should File
Even if you think the income in your household is too high to qualify, you might be surprised. College can be expensive, and FAFSA takes this into account as well as the number of people in the household and basic living costs that a family can face. You may be entitled to scholarships, grants, or even low-interest loans with much more borrower-friendly terms, so it is definitely worth the short period of time it takes to file. (According to NerdWallet, it takes applicants less than an hour to fill out and submit the FAFSA.) Application is free and easy. Online forms (and a lot of helpful information) can be found at: https://studentaid.gov/.
2. It Needs to Be Filed Every Year
Unfortunately qualifying one year does not mean qualifying the next as income and expenses can change over time. The good news is that after filing the first time, most of the information will be pre-filled, so all you have to do is make adjustments. Families should use their “prior-prior year” tax information to complete the FAFSA instead of the prior year’s tax information. In other words, use 2019 tax information to complete the 2021-22 form. You can import tax information into the FAFSA form by using the IRS data retrieval tool. When you sign into your application, you’ll see a “Link to IRS” button if you’re eligible to use the tool. If you aren't eligible, you’ll still need to have that tax information on hand.
3. File as Early as You Can
Your FAFSA can be submitted as early as October 1st. It is to your benefit to file early. Some forms of financial aid have more limited funds and will offer it to students on a first come, first serve basis.
4. You Will First Need to Register for an FSA ID
Before you begin working on your FAFSA forms, you will be assigned an FSA ID which will identify you throughout the paperwork process. It is important to note that each person on the application will need to obtain their own ID, so both the student and a parent will need to file for an FSS ID. Make sure to write down this ID as it will be used multiple times throughout the filing and acceptance process. This ID will also serve as your electronic signature during the filing process.
5. You Can Forecast Your Expected Financial Aid
You can use the FAFSA4caster tool to estimate the type and amount of aid you may be eligible to receive. Once you submit the FAFSA, your results, know as your Student Aid Report, will arrive by email or surface mail between three days and three weeks after you submit the form, depending on your application method. The report provides basic information about financial aid eligibility, including your answers to questions on the FAFSA and the amount your family is expected to pay, known as your expected family contribution. If you don’t have an EFC, your FAFSA likely contains an error that you need to correct. Colleges use the information in your report to determine the aid you qualify for.. Once you receive the report, make sure all the information is accurate. If you find inaccuracies, update your FAFSA as necessary.
6. Include All the Schools You Have Interest in
Even if you have your heart set on one school, it does not hurt to fill in any other school you might consider attending. You can enter up to 10 schools, and each of these schools will receive your FAFSA information. Schools will use this information to let you know which scholarships and other financial aid you may qualify for that is specific to their school. Sometimes the amount may be enough to sway your decision.
7. Report Everything Accurately
The FAFSA form is a government form that is thoroughly checked for accuracy. Failing to report everything accurately, in hopes of qualifying you for more, can get you banned from applying for financial aid in the future and result in legal consequences. To avoid costly mistakes, make sure that you have all of your financial information and tax returns in front of you so you can ensure accuracy.
8. If You Are Granted Aid You Will Still Need to Accept It
Once your FAFSA application has been reviewed, you will be given a letter showing you the aid that is available to you and this same information will be reported to the college you plan to attend. Receiving this letter does not start the funding. You will be required to accept what aid you wish to utilize before it can be disbursed.
College is extremely expensive, but filling out the FAFSA will help you get as much financial aid as possible.
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Sapient Investments. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered tax or investment advice or a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.