Starting college this fall? It might seem far off, but don’t procrastinate on filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Doing so could cause you to lose out on money for school that you would have been eligible for.
The FAFSA is required to receive federal financial aid like Pell Grants or federal student loans. State and regional financial aid programs also require it, as do most colleges when determining eligibility for institutional aid (money awarded by the school).
FAFSA deadlines vary by state and by school, but ASAP is a good rule of thumb. Check with the school you’ll be attending for its deadline, but make sure you don’t miss the deadline for your state by checking on the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.
The FAFSA requires students (and their parents, in the case of dependent students) to supply financial information, including the balances in checking and savings accounts as well as information from income tax forms. Filling out the FAFSA can be confusing for anyone, but many low-income families and families headed by parents who did not go to college have a lot of questions.
Many people procrastinate on filling out the FAFSA because it’s a lot of work or because they haven’t yet filed their income taxes. Don’t make excuses! Use W2 forms and the last paystubs from 2012 to estimate earnings and use account statements to estimate assets. Then, you can submit the actual tax information once the 2012 taxes have been filed. You can even use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer information from your taxes to your FAFSA.
If the FAFSA has your family confused, you’re not alone. Here is a partial list of places that you can get legitimate free FAFSA help:
The FAFSA may seem like a huge pain, but having access to money that can help you pay for college is incredibly helpful—especially if some of that money is in the form of grants and scholarships, which do not have to be paid back after graduation. Here are a few important things to remember when applying for financial aid:
1. Don’t miss deadlines. Financial aid funds are distributed on a first come, first serve basis. This means that putting off your FAFSA can cost you dearly. You could miss out on money that you would have otherwise been able to receive!
2. Stay organized. Keep all of your financial documents (or copies of the documents) in one place. If you need them for any reason—you could be required to verify the information submitted on your FAFSA—you will know where they are.
3. Be honest. Lying or cheating on the FAFSA is a big deal that can get you into big trouble. Don’t do it.
4. Always remember that submitting the FAFSA is free. Free help is also readily available, as you can tell from the programs listed above. Don’t fall for websites, online scams, or companies that promise to help you receive more money by paying a fee up front. If you’re not sure if something is legitimate, check with your counselor or financial aid officer first.
5. Your FAFSA information will be shared with the colleges listed on your application. If you’re eligible for aid, you will have to accept that money once you are ready to begin classes. You won’t receive a check in the mail—the funds will go straight to the school you are attending. If you’re taking out loans, you’ll have to sign a promissory note and complete entrance counseling to understand how loans work and your rights and responsibilities as a borrower.
Visit the StateUniversity.com College Financial Aid Guide to search programs by state, major, and more.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
Have something to say? Feel free to add comments or additional information.