11 Jan

The 5 W’s of the FAFSA

The New Year is upon us, and that means that it’s time for families with a high school senior or college student to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you aren’t sure what the big deal is, read on–the FAFSA is one of your most important to-do’s when it comes to paying for college.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is just what it’s name implies: an application to receive financial aid for college from the federal government. Put out by the Department of Education, by calculating a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), it determines which students are eligible to be awarded different types of financial aid such as grants, loans or work-study.

Who Should File?

Every family with a student currently in college, or with a high school senior planning to enter college next fall, should apply. Your family should fill out the FAFSA regardless of whether or not you expect to be eligible for “need-based” financial aid.

Why Should I File?

You should file because families of all income levels can benefit from filing the FAFSA.

Students of families whose income level qualifies them for need-based financial aid will have the opportunity to be awarded grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans.

Families that will not qualify for need-based aid should still file the FAFSA, because it is also the only way to get access to federal student loans–the most consumer-friendly type of student loan (as opposed to private student loans, which are offered by private lenders like banks, and typically have higher interest rates and less attractive terms.)

Even if your family does not currently need a loan, filing the FAFSA will make your child eligible to take out a federal student loan at any time during the school year, should the need arise. It also gives you access to the parent PLUS loan.  During these tumultuous times, it may be a helpful safety net to have in place.

Where Do I File?

While a paper application is available on request, I recommend that you fill it out and submit it online at www.FAFSA.ed.gov.  The online application is processed much more quickly than the paper version.

Make sure you only go to the address above to file your FAFSA, and not to the site, FAFSA.com which is actually a commercial site that will charge you to file your FAFSA.  (The FAFSA is a free form to file if you use the government site.)

When Should I File?

The FAFSA for the 2010-2011 school year (for students who will be attending college this coming fall) became available on January 1st, 2010. Some colleges award aid on a first-come first-served basis, so you should apply as soon after the 1st of the year as possible to guarantee your student the best chance of receiving the most attractive financial aid package possible.  (Plus it will feel great to have this task checked off as “complete” on your “To Do” list!)

You won’t likely have your 2009 tax return completed when you fill out the FAFSA, so you will need to estimate your 2009 income figures.  If your income for 2009 was similar to 2008, you can simply use the numbers off of your 2008 tax return.  You can update the figures on your FAFSA once your 2009 tax return is complete.

Next post I’ll give you some handy tips about how to get a head start on the FAFSA process, so stay tuned.

All the best,
Deborah Fox

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One Response to “The 5 W’s of the FAFSA”

  1. 1
    Pay for College Blog » Blog Archive » Paying for College: What Is Work-Study? Says:

    […] Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only way to qualify for Work-Study. (It is also the only way to apply for federal student loans–read more about that here.) […]

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