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7 Things You Must Know Before You File Your FAFSA Application

Updated for Tax Year 2018

If you are a student getting ready to start college, then you may know that in order to qualify for financial aid, you must file the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is run by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid, which provides post-secondary students with more than $120 billion in federal aid.

The FAFSA form is available free of charge and gives eligible students access to the largest pool of financial assistance available for college or vocational school. In addition, information provided on the FAFSA is also used by states and colleges to grant state and school assistance, as well as private financial aid.

Filling out the FAFSA form follows a rather simple process. However, there are a few things to know before you file your FAFSA form going forward:

1. Educate yourself first

Before you even start filing your application, you may want to learn as much as possible about the different types of federal student aid. That includes grants which don’t have to be repaid, loans or borrowed money for college or career school, and work-study through which students earn money to assist in their school payments.

Grants include the Federal Pell Grant for undergraduate students, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.

In addition to the above grants, you may also have access to direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, as well as direct PLUS loans.

2. Always complete a FAFSA (even if you think you don’t need it)

While you may think that you don’t qualify for financial aid, it’s always best to complete a FAFSA. Actually, in 2018, there are no applicable FAFSA income limits. However, you should keep in mind that despite this, your family’s finances will largely determine if you qualify for need-based financial aid and which type you’re eligible for.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to file an application every year you may need financial aid. Just remember to make adjustments as needed on a yearly basis.

3. Be timely

Filling out the FAFSA should be a timely process. As such, you should file early enough and allow enough time to gather all the documentation you need. Completing the FAFSA application as close to January is best in order to meet all the state and federal deadlines.

4. Get your Federal Student Aid ID

As of May 10, 2015, the Federal Student Aid ID replaced the Federal Student Aid Pin. You will need this FSA ID to log on to any Federal Student Aid website going forward. While an FSA ID is not required to complete the FAFSA application process, it helps to access your application and other information more easily.

Additionally, you should know that your FSA ID password expires every 18 months unless updated.

5. Gather all the information you may need

In order to fill out your FAFSA application as accurately as possible, you need to gather the appropriate information. That includes, but may not be limited to:

  • Your social security number (or alien registration number if you’re not a US citizen)
  • Your recent federal income tax returns, as well as your W-2 forms, pay stubs and any other proof of income
  • Your non-taxable income records, if applicable
  • Your investment records, including any bank and brokerage statements

6. Use estimates when necessary

In case you haven’t filed your income tax return for the previous year, it is acceptable to use estimates. However, remember that you can correct your FAFSA information upon filing your tax return.

7. Correct your FAFSA when necessary

To correct previously filed FAFSA information, you should first ensure that your original filing has been processed by waiting to receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). However, it’s crucial to make these changes before the imposed state and federal deadlines.

All in all, filing your FAFSA is the first step to getting the financial assistance you may need to pay for your post-secondary education. However, keeping in mind the above requirements and considerations can help significantly ease the process and get better results.

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.

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