The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your golden ticket to financial aid for college. Based on the information you provide on the FAFSA, you may be offered grants, scholarships, work-study and low-interest student loans by the federal government and your college or university. The greater your financial need , the more ‘free money’ you may receive. But, who qualifies to apply using the FAFSA and where do you find the form? Follow these easy steps to ensure you are not missing out on any available financial aid.
Who Can Apply?
Every student, regardless of income, should file the FAFSA. You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen (permanent resident, asylum, etc) and a high school graduate (or graduating high school senior) at the time of application. Additionally, while you (and your parents) don’t need a PIN to complete the FAFSA online, it is the fastest way to sign your application and you won’t be able access your data online without one, so get a PIN now.
When Do I Apply?
Beginning January 1, students and parents may submit the FAFSA for the upcoming school year. To ensure you do not miss your school’s financial aid deadline (many are before March 1), complete your federal taxes as soon as possible. If you cannot complete them early, use last year’s tax figures to estimate and then correct the FAFSA once you have filed the current year’s tax forms. While the federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30 of the following year, each state and college has its own deadline to meet. Be sure to check with your school’s financial aid office to ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities. In general, apply as early as you can. Some types of federal and institutional assistance are limited. By filing early, you will ensure you are considered for the most assistance available.
Where Do I Find the Forms?
When you are ready to file, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov to file your application. If you Google ‘FAFSA’, you will receive links to other sites that will charge you for their services. The FAFSA is a ‘free’ application, so you never have to pay a fee to complete this form.
What Do I Need to File?
Have the following items on hand before you begin the application process:
- Driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers
- FAFSA PIN for both the student and parent(s)
- W-2 Forms and other financial records
- Current Federal Income Tax Return – IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040TeleFile, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, or the Federated States of Micronesia
- Any untaxed income records – Social Security, welfare, veterans benefits, etc.
- Current bank statements
- Current business and investment information
- Permanent residence or alien registration card (non- U.S. citizen)
With the addition of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, your current tax information will be populated directly into the FAFSA, helping to reduce both time and possible errors. Typically, it takes less than an hour to complete the form, but the effort can pay off in thousands of dollars in ‘free money’ for college. For more information, or help with the form, use the "Help" menu item at the fafsa.ed.gov.
TIP: File The FAFSA Even If You Haven't Filed Tax ReturnsSince you may file your FAFSA on or after January 1st of each year you will attend college, it is likely you will not have had an opportunity to file your tax returns. If you haven't filed, you can use estimates in order to complete the income sections of your application. Once you file, go back to FAFSA on the Web, log in and click Make FAFSA Corrections. Some programs have limited funds and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
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