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Free Application for Federal Student Aid – What to Know Before Applying

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For most parents of college applicants, the thought of filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a daunting one.  The key to financial aid success is knowledge and planning.  While it might seem like it is too early to be starting the FAFSA process, our goal is to get you thinking about the necessary steps and the critical timeline to follow.

The federal government, state governments, and most colleges provide financial aid to students based on their financial need. The FAFSA is used to apply for this aid, which includes grants (money that does not need to be repaid) and education loans (money that must be repaid, often with interest).  In most cases, financial aid is given on a first-come first-served basis. Applying early increases your chance of receiving the most financial aid.  Plan to apply as early as January 1st of the next academic year.

Each year, the FAFSA creates uncertainty and confusion for college applicants and parents. Some common questions include:

  • Is it better to wait to complete the FAFSA until taxes have been filed?
  • What is the income level at which a family becomes ineligible for need-based financial aid?
  • Does it make sense to complete the FAFSA even if you do not expect to receive grant aid?

A student’s financial need is defined as the difference between the total cost of attendance and the expected family contribution, which is calculated using a formula based on the data reported in the FAFSA.  There is no specific income cutoff for need-based financial aid eligibility.  Eligibility can depend on many other factors besides income including family size, the number of children in college, assets, the age of the older parent and the cost of the college.

An individual can apply for the FAFSA in one of three ways:

  • Online- Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov to complete your application online.  Completing the application online allows families to transfer information provided on federal tax returns from the IRS database to the FAFSA.  If you filed your tax returns electronically, the tax data will be available for transfer after three weeks.  The tax data for paper returns will be available for transfer after eight to ten weeks.  If the FAFSA was completed before IRS tax information was available for transfer, you can always transfer the IRS tax data as a FAFSA correction.  This process will cut down the amount of time the college needs to verify the information supplied on the FAFSA.
  • In person- If you would like help with your application, take your tax statements to your school’s financial aid office and ask to speak with a financial aid officer.
  • Paper- You can also print an application here and mail it in for processing.

As you create an inventory of your assets for the FAFSA, please do not hesitate to contact us for guidance and questions.

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