For many college-bound students, obtaining financial aid is essential for affording education costs. You have likely heard that it is important to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 as possible. However many do not understand why this is so important.
Filing the FAFSA will determine your eligibility for federal, state and in some cases, institutional aid. Financial Aid refers to grants and scholarships, student loans and work-study. It is important to file your FAFSA early as some forms financial aid are limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Here are some tips to help you complete your FAFSA quickly and stress free.
Come prepared. FAFSA completion will go much quicker if you have the following items.
- Social Security Number
- Parent’s Social Security Number
- Driver’s license number (if you have one)
- Alien Registration Number (if you are not a citizen)
- 2013 federal tax returns, including W-2 information for you and your parents (or the most recent taxes if you haven’t filed yet)
- Records of untaxed income received in 2013 for you and your parents
- Current bank statements and investments records for you and your parents
- 2013 business and farm records
- A list of schools you are interested in attending
- A PIN for you and a PIN for you parent in order to sign you FAFSA electronically
File the FAFSA no matter your financial situation. Even if you do not think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, you should still file the FAFSA. Many colleges require that you file the FAFSA to be considered for institutional aid. In addition, you are required to complete a FAFSA to be eligible for federal Stafford loans and completing the FAFSA does not obligate you to accept any of the aid offered.
Never pay to file the FAFSA. You can file the FAFSA for free at www.fafsa.gov. Reputable resources, including Iowa College Aid, are available to help you for free. In addition, more than 50 College Goal Sunday events will be held throughout Iowa to provide one-on-one assistance with FAFSA filing. Dates and locations of the events can be found here.
Meet state and college deadlines. In Iowa, several state financial aid programs have priority FAFSA filing deadline as early as March 1. Keep in mind, most colleges and universities have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. Students should check with their college of choice to determine its priority deadline for financial aid and if additional documentation is required.
Double check information to avoid delays. Review your FAFSA information before you submit it for processing. Make sure the student’s Social Security number and the parent’s Social Security number are typed in the correct spaces. Mix-ups like these will cause processing delays.
It’s easier than ever. One of the newest enhancements, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, allows applicants to automatically transfer the required tax information to the FAFSA, which saves time and reduces applicant error. Students and families can file the FAFSA prior to completing their 2013 taxes by using estimated income information. The tax data should be available within 1-2 weeks of electronically filing taxes and then the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can be used to make a FASFA correction, streamlining the completion of the FAFSA.
Check your email. If you provide an email address when you complete the FAFSA, a link to view your results will be sent to that email within 3-5 days. Make sure to check your email regularly for your results.
Electronically sign your FAFSA. The electronic application is not complete until both the student and parent electronically sign the FAFSA using their Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Numbers (PIN). Filers can apply for student and parent PINs while completing the FAFSA online, or they can go to the Federal Student Aid PIN website, www.pin.ed.gov, to obtain PINs prior to starting the FAFSA.
Following these tips will make filing the FAFSA a relatively quick and painless process! Once the student’s FAFSA has been processed, each school they applied to will send a financial aid award package. Each will include the amount of scholarships, grants and loans the student qualifies for at the respective institution for the term indicated. Compare these award letters to make an informed decision on continuing your education!