Since the FAFSA is now available starting Oct. 1, it’s a good idea for parents of college-bound seniors to get a head start before the craziness of senior year begins.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is your golden ticket for college money, including all federal loans and college merit aid. Without the FAFSA, students can’t qualify for federal student loans or receive any financial aid from a college. If there’s one piece of advice I give parents repeatedly it’s, “no matter your income or ability to pay, complete the FAFSA.”
Once the FAFSA becomes available, make it your goal to complete it as quickly as possible; especially if your student is applying early decision or early action. If you do, the colleges will have the information they need to award financial aid as close to their admission decision as possible.
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This means by the time you know the college’s admission decision, you will also know how much aid your student will receive from the college and from the government. This gives you an opportunity to plan financially almost a year before your student actually begins college.
To be the first in line for aid, here’s what you will need when filing out the FAFSA:
Both parent and student will need to create a FSA ID before completing the FAFSA. This is a username and password you must use to log in to the FAFSA website. Because your FSA ID is equivalent to your signature, parents and students will need to create separate FSA IDs using separate email addresses. Create your ID as soon as your can.
Social Security numbers
Both parent and student will need this information. If you are not a U.S. citizen, but meet Federal Student Aid’s basic eligibility requirements, you’ll need your Alien Registration number.
Your most recent tax return
You will need the information from your income taxes to complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA also allows parents and students to transfer data from their returns using the IRS data retrieval tool. Since there were some problems last year with the tool, it’s a good idea to have your actual return records available if you need to enter the information manually. It will also help you verify accuracy.
Records of your untaxed income
The FAFSA asks questions about untaxed income which may or may not apply to your specific situation. They include things like child support, interest income, IRA distributions, pensions and veterans noneducation benefits. You can find details of these items required at the FAFSA website.
Records of all your assets
Assets include savings and checking account balances, as well as investments such as stocks and any real estate other than your current residence. You will report the amounts as of the date you sign the FAFSA and since these amounts might change before you actually fill anything out, you should know where to find them.
A list of the colleges your student is interested in attending
Students should list any colleges they are considering, even if they haven’t filled out a college application or written one word of a college essay. The schools you list on the FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically. They will use the FAFSA information to determine types and amounts of financial aid your student may receive.
You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA at a time. If you are applying to more than 10 schools, you can find instructions on what to do on the website. In addition, to be considered for state aid, several states require you to list schools in a particular order (for instance, you might need to list a state school first). You can find out whether your state has a requirement for the order in which you list schools from the FAFSA site.