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10 Essential Tips to Make Filing a FAFSA Easy

10 Essential Tips to Make Filing a FAFSA Easy - TaxACT

Filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an important step when getting ready for college. These tips can make filing the application for financial aid easier.

If you or someone in your household is planning to go to college, you’ve probably heard of FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The FAFSA is administered by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. This office provides more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to post-secondary students every year.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when filing a FAFSA:

1. Complete a FAFSA and apply for financial aid, even if you think you won’t qualify

Think your family income is too high for federal student aid? You might be surprised.

If the student attends a public college, his or her family may be able to make up to $80,000 per year and still receive aid. If the student attends private college, however, the family income may be up to twice that amount, and the student may still qualify for aid.

Another good reason to apply, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, is that you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before you can apply for many other forms of financial aid, including grants from the college or university.

2. Fill out the application online

The easiest and fastest way to file a FAFSA is online on the Federal Student Aid website here.

3. Have your information handy

  • Social Security Number, or Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • Recent federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, and other proof of income, such as pay stubs.
  • Bank and brokerage statements, and records of any other investments.
  • Records of nontaxable income, such as municipal bonds.

You may also need this information for a stepparent if the student lives with a parent and stepparent.

4. Don’t delay

Allow plenty of time to fill out the application. You’ll need a lot of information, some of which you may need to get from other people. You should complete the FAFSA as close to January 1st as possible, to make sure you meet all federal and state deadlines for financial assistance.

5. Get a Federal Student Aid PIN

You’ll need a PIN (personal identification number) to sign the FAFSA electronically. Visit pin.ed.gov to get a PIN.

6. Be sure you know who is considered the child’s parent

If the student’s legal parents are married or not married and living together, use the financial information for both parents. This is true whether the parents are of the same or opposite sex.

If the student’s parent is widowed or never married, use that parent’s financial information.

If the parents are divorced or separated and not living together, use the information for the parent with whom the student lived the most during the last 12 months. If the student lived with each parent the same amount of time, use information for the parent who provided the most financial support.

7. Estimate numbers if you’re filing a FAFSA before you complete your income tax return

If you haven’t finished your tax return for the previous year, don’t let that stop you. You can always update the numbers if you need to later.

8. File a FAFSA every year the student should be considered for financial aid

Yes, you get to do this again – and again. You won’t start from scratch, though. You just make adjustments as necessary each year.

9. Learn about the different types of student aid available through the U.S. Department of Education

Grants are just one type of student aid. Grants do not have to be paid back. The four types of federal student grants are:

Federal Pell Grants. Up to $5,550 (2014-2015 year) is awarded to undergraduate students based on financial need and other factors.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). These grants are awarded to students with exceptional financial need, based on availability of funds at the college.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. This aid is available for students who intend to teach in public or private schools that serve students from low-income families.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. These grants are for dependents of members of the Armed Forces who died as the result of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Applying for FAFSA can also help a student get scholarships and student loans.

10. Get a jump start on the FAFSA by using TaxACT’s FAFSA Summary Worksheet

TaxACT’s printable College Financial Aid Worksheet includes all the tax information you need to complete the FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov.

After entering your tax information into your TaxACT return, your College Financial Aid Worksheet will be ready in the Review tab.

How important do you think it is for a person to try to graduate from college debt free?

Photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc

About Sally Herigstad

Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and personal finance columnist and author of Help! I Can't Pay My Bills, Surviving a Financial Crisis (St. Martin's Griffin). She writes regularly at CreditCards.com, Bankrate.com, Interest.com, RedPlum, and MSN Money. She is an experienced speaker and a member of Toastmasters International. Follow Sally on Twitter.