The New Year has arrived, and with itself, it has brought new opportunities for us like getting financial aid for college. You can get eligible for this financial aid by filling out FAFSA. FAFSA is a Free Application for Federal Student Aid which is used to distribute $150 billion among students who are either getting enrolled or are already enrolled in a college. January 1, 2016, was the first day to file out FAFSA for 2016-17. If you have not filled out the FAFSA form till now, you should fill it immediately or you’ll risk losing out on financial aid scholarships or grant money.
Here are the 10 things you’ll need to know before filling out the FAFSA to make it easier and faster –
1. Fill your FAFSA as Early as Possible
When it comes to filling FAFSA, the earlier the better. For 2016-17, 1st January was the first date for filing. Starting early provides you with many extra benefits. One of them is that some federal funds are distributed in first come first serve basis. Early filling will help your chances of getting maximum aid from federal, state and college level. Another benefit of filling your FAFSA early is that, if you committed a mistake while sending the application or you want to add more colleges then you will have plenty of time to rectify your mistake or make changes to your application.
Four main instances in which you’ll need to edit your FAFSA after you’ve submitted it are –
- You made some mistake while filling the form.
- Your financial situation has changed.
- You have received updated tax return information.
- You want to add or delete a college.
Some of the students wait for the filing of income tax before filing the FAFSA. The amount of tax can be estimated by looking at the prior year income tax and can be updated later after filing of income tax has been done.
2. Create your FSA ID (& Do it Yourself)
Post 10 May 2015, a FSA ID is required for logging into FAFSA instead of a PIN. So the first thing you should do is create your FSA ID. For the purpose of Social Security Administration match, it takes up to 3 days to get the FSA ID running. So create your FAFSA ID as early as possible to avoid any delays in getting student aid.
If you are a dependent student, make sure one of your parents create an FSA ID too. But do not create the FSA ID for your parents yourself. Neither let anyone else- be it your parents, teachers, best friends or anybody else- create your FSA ID. FSA ID is equivalent to a legal signature. Sharing your FSA ID can put your personal information security to risk and make you party to unwanted binding legal contracts. There is also a greater chance of loosing your FSA ID if someone else creates it for you as you will not be able to answer challenge questions even if you try to reset your UserID or Password.
Parents and students both need an FSA ID for filling the form as FSA ID is equivalent to signature of a person.If you filed a FAFSA last year, you can renew it by selecting FAFSA renewal on the login page. This way, many of the questions will be pre-filled, just make sure to review them.
Not only is the FSA ID required for accessing the online portal of Federal Student Aid and to view/ print your Student Aid report, infact it is also needed when using the IRS data retrieval tool for importing your tax information or signing your master promissory note import your tax information into your FAFSA from the Internal Revenue Service. So keep your FSA ID safe and never share it with anyone else.
3. Social Security Number
You need your Social Security Number for filling the form. You can find it on your social security card. If you do not have access to it or you don’t know where it is, ask your parents or legal guardian for it. If you have lost or misplaced the social security card, get a new or replacement social security card from the social security administration.
4. Alien Registration Number
If you aren’t a US citizen but come under eligible noncitizen, you will need your alien registration number instead of a SSN.
5. Driving License
Having a driving license is not mandatory. If you have it, that’s great otherwise no need to worry about it.
6. Your Tax Records
Your tax record is also required for filling the form. You need tax record for the prior year.
For instance, if you are filing the details for year 2016-17, then you will need the tax record for the year 2015. If you have not filed your taxes for the year 2015 then by looking at the 2014 tax return, you can write the expected amount. Update your FAFSA once you have filed the 2015 tax information. You can also import the tax information appropriately once you have filed your taxes by using IRS DATA Retrieval tool.
If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information based on previous year’s information, and can later on correct your application after you have filed your taxes. Make sure to check the box of will file for your taxes to allow for tax return updates. If you doubt that your income might not mimic previous years’ then use the Income Estimator to get a gross income measure and all all income related questions to your best knowledge. If you have checked the “will file” box, you can update your information after you have filed your tax returns for the year by February. Simply select the option that you wish to Make FAFSA Corrections after logging in to FAFSA and in the Finances section indicate that you have already completed your taxes. Then use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer your latest tax return information into your financial aid application. Sign Submit and it’s Done.
7. Untaxed income
Your nontaxable income is also required for filing FAFSA. It includes variables like child support received, interest received and veteran’s non-education benefits.
8. Records of All your Assets
You have to also report all your savings and your investments in stocks, bonds and real estate. FAFSA need these details in order to tell the colleges how much fund is available for college expenses. No colleges expects you to use your retirement savings or sell your home but investments in stocks and bonds outside of retirement account are seen as funds that can be tapped into for college expenses.
9. List of Colleges
Most of the students list only one college in their application. This is a very common mistake. 10 colleges are allowed to be listed by FAFSA when filling the form online. You should list any college you are considering as your application is sent to each of the college that you have listed. This will help the colleges in determining how much financial aid you’ll require. You can use the Federal School Code Search to search for colleges you’re interested in including on your FAFSA. For federal student aid the order of the listing of colleges doesn’t matter. But for state aid there are many states that requires the colleges to be listed in a particular order. So check out if your state requires colleges to be listed in a particular order. If it requires, then list your colleges accordingly, otherwise list the colleges alphabetically.
10. Keep Track of Various FAFSA Deadlines
Make sure to keep an eye on all the three deadlines – federal deadline, state deadline and college deadline. The federal deadline for submitting online applications is by midnight Central Time, June 30, 2016. Even though students can make updates and correction till midnight Central Time, September 17, 2016. The state deadlines can be checked through the FAFSA website.
In September President Obama announced changes to the 2017-18 FAFSA. Students will be able to fill 2017-18 FASPA as early as 1st October, 2016. This change has been done in order to give colleges more time to investigate the tax reports and in calculating the financial aid required by the student. This will also benefit the students as it will give them time to prepare according to the financial aid they will be receiving. It will also give them peace of mind unlike up to now where students had to wait till the last moment to know what’s gonna happen next.
The best thing about FASPA is that it is free of cost and it can save your thousands of dollar on college costs. All you have to do is spend the time and work through the forms.