27 Dec

FAFSA Time is (Almost) Here Again

It’s time to prepare for financial aid season because the online Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) becomes available to fill out on January 1st.  Due to the fact that many colleges award federal and school-specific aid on a first-come, first-served basis, you’ll want to be prepared ahead of time so you can get your FAFSA filed within the first couple weeks of January.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is exactly what name its acronym represents–a free application for federal student aid. You simply fill out the online application and submit it.  Subsequently the government and your child’s college will use the information to determine what your family’s financial aid award (made up of one or more scholarships, grants, work-study and/or loans) will be. The FAFSA is administrated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Should We Apply?

No matter what your family’s income may be, you should apply for the FAFSA if you have a student who:

  1. Will be starting or continuing an undergraduate degree in college this coming fall, or
  2. Will be starting or continuing any type of graduate degree in college (including business, law, medical, etc.) this coming fall.

As I’ve mentioned before, many colleges and universities, state and federal governments, and private scholarships sponsors require your child to have submitted the FAFSA to qualify for their financial aid monies.

Equally as important, filing the FAFSA is the only way for students to get access to federal student loans, which are much more consumer friendly (and tend to have better loan terms) than private student loans. All families of college students, regardless of income, should file the FAFSA.

Where Do We Begin?

As I mentioned above, having the FAFSA completed as soon after January 1st as possible may increase your child’s chances of getting the best financial aid award for the upcoming college year. That means you should spend some time this month getting prepared. To get started you should:

  1. Apply for a PIN (your electronic signature) for both yourself and your student (or retrieve an old one if you have applied for the FAFSA before).  One parent and the student needs to have a PIN to electronically sign the FAFSA.
  2. Look over the official FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to become familiar with what this year’s FAFSA entails.
  3. Prepare income estimates (for both you and your child) for 2010’s earnings (don’ wait until your 2010 tax return is prepared–it will be much too late!).
  4. Gather personal information (SS cards, drivers’ licenses, bank statements, etc.) for both you and your student beforehand so you have it all in one place.

For details, helpful websites, and specifics, I suggest you look at last year’s article about how to get a jump on the FAFSA.

Where Do We Apply?

The only official portal for the FAFSA is http://www.fafsa.ed.gov.  The FAFSA is free to file.

(Note: There are some for-profit companies that have set up FAFSA-filing websites where you will be charged for the service.  You will still need to provide these sites with the same information you need to gather to file it yourself on the official FAFSA website.  I don’t recommend you pay for a filing service.)

Want to learn more? Read last year’s article about the 5 W’s of the FAFSA (note that the specific calendar years referred to should be increased by one year to be applicable for this year).  You can also learn the answers to common questions about the application.

All the best,
Deborah Fox

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One Response to “FAFSA Time is (Almost) Here Again”

  1. 1
    Pay for College Blog » Blog Archive » How to Get Step-By-Step FAFSA Help for Free Says:

    […] FAFSA Time is (Almost) Here Again […]

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