Tips on filling out this important federal financial aid form.
By Anne Vaccaro Brady
In case you’re wondering, FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Basically, it’s the form every college requires from students for need-based grants, scholarships and loans. Many schools won’t send a financial aid package, even a merit-based one, until this form is completed.
The key things to note The information applies to the school year that begins in the fall. If your teen will be a freshman in August/September, you need to fill out FAFSA in the next month or two, the sooner the better.
The application is online and has been available since January 1. [Note: Starting with the 2017-2018 academic year, FAFSA will go online October 1 in an effort to help students and their families know their financial responsibility earlier.] Check the websites of all the colleges your student has applied to, including those he’s still waiting to hear from, for their FAFSA deadlines. After reviewing all of them, use the earliest date as your student’s deadline to submit his FAFSA application. This may only be a few weeks away.
If your high school (or one nearby offers) a workshop on FAFSA, attend. We found it invaluable.
Before you start Both you and your student must set up a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which replaces the FAFSA PIN. Students need an FSA ID to log in and parents need it to electronically sign their student’s FAFSA application. Visit the Federal Student Aid ID page for directions on how to create one.
It’s not crucial to have this year’s federal income taxes completed. You can refer to last year’s if not much has changed or use your W-2 form if you’ve received it. When you reach the question on current year filing status, select either “will file” or “filed,” depending upon where you are in the process.
You’ll need a lot of the same paperwork that you use for your taxes: W-2 forms, the value of your savings and investment accounts, any public assistance your family received, contributions to 401K or IRA accounts (but not the value of these accounts), your exemptions, etc. You’ll need this info for your student, as well.
Note: Students whose parents are divorced or don’t live together, only need to provide the financial information for the parent the student lives with most of the time or if that time is equal, the parent who provides the most financial support.
You can save as you go, so don’t worry about finishing the application in one sitting, though it won’t take as long as you think if you have the right information handy.
Filling out the application Visit the FAFSA website. Once you sign on with the appropriate ID, you’ll be asked standard identification questions, including your student’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, whether she’s a dependent, married, etc. The parent info is similar, but requires additional financial information. If you’ve lost your job and haven’t found a new one, answer “Yes” to the question that asks “Is parent a dislocated worker?”
Toward the end, you will be asked which colleges to send this information to. If your student is a high school senior, provide the names of all the colleges she’s applied to (there’s a search tool that will help you find the codes for each school), but if your student is already in college, or has accepted an admissions offer already, just list that one college.
Even if questions don’t apply, don’t leave them blank. Answer with either a zero or “No,” whichever is applicable.
When you’re done Review the application before signing and submitting. Remember, you and your student must use your FSA IDs to electronically sign the application.
Once you’ve submitted the application, you’ll see your “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) at the bottom of the page (look carefully, it’s hard to find). And like every other parent, you’ll say out loud, “Really?” Because you’ll be thinking, If I had that much money available, I wouldn’t be requesting financial aid. You’ll also find out how much money your student can access through a Direct Stafford Loan. Print a copy of your completed application for your own records. Your student will receive an e-mail saying his application has been received and another notice about the Expected Family Contribution.
When you’ve finished your taxes, go back in and update your student’s FAFSA application with any changes and update the income tax status from “will file” to “filed.”
Good news Once the application is submitted, the info will be sent to all the colleges your student listed. Plus, when you file again for the next academic year, you’ll only need to update your information, not fill out the entire application again.
For parents with more than one student in college at the same time, the EFC is divided among them, giving your kids a better chance of receiving aid.
Other financial aid forms Some colleges also require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE accessed through the College Board website. There is a small fee and more detailed questions about your finances. Some colleges require you fill out supplemental forms or ask for a printed copy of your signed tax return.
Colleges take this financial aid business very seriously. As much as they like to boast that the majority of their students receive financial aid, it doesn’t come easy. Good luck.
Read my next post for more answers to your questions about FAFSA.
Please ask any questions and share your own advice on FAFSA in the comments section below.