Tips for Filing the FAFSA
Homeschool parents of high school seniors, it is time to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. It is hard to believe it’s that time already, but it is necessary for your student to file the FAFSA in order to receive financial assistance for college. The thought of filing a paper with the government can seem like a daunting task. Just follow these tips for filing the FAFSA, and you may discover it is much easier than you expect.
Tip #1 – Learn What the FAFSA is and Why You Need to File
Do you know what the FAFSA is? It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. Filing the FAFSA is done through Federal Student Aid (FSA), which is a division of the United States Department of Education. The FSA assists eligible students who wish to attend college by providing them with monetary resources in the form of grants, loans, and work-study funds.
The information you provide on the FAFSA determines what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be. Most colleges use the information from the FAFSA and the EFC to determine what financial assistance your child will receive. The college will then prepare a financial package that includes the difference between the EFC and the cost of attending that college.
Don’t pass this up. Even though you may think your teen will not receive financial aid, he or she still needs to apply for it. Every penny received is that much less your teen will have to pay out of pocket.
Tip #2 – Find Out if Your Student is Eligible to
Receive Financial Aid before Filing
The FSA has several requirements students must meet in order to be eligible for financial aid, such as being a U.S. citizen and have a Social Security Number. One of requirement surprised me . . . males are to register with the Selective Service System. I did not realize that was still being done. Thankfully, it doesn’t take very long to register, and can be completed online.
Tip #3 – Create a FSA ID in Advance
Students will need a FSA ID (username and password) to log into the website. Now, the government is very picky about this. The student is not to share his or her ID . . . not even with you. Reason being, the students need to “sign” the form. The signature is considered the same as signing a legal document. The website clearly states:
Only create an FSA ID using your own personal information and for your own exclusive use. You are not authorized to create an FSA ID on behalf of someone else, including a family member. Misrepresentation of your identity to the federal government could result in criminal or civil penalties.
If for some reason you need to sign your child’s FAFSA, you will need to obtain your own ID.
Make sure your teen applies for his or her FSA ID before filing the FAFSA. The FSA needs to verify personal information with the Social Security Association, which takes 1-3 days before using the ID.
Tip #4 – Know Your Deadlines for Filing the FAFSA
A student must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form each year within the proper time frame. There are different deadlines for each state, and range from soon after January 1 to June 30. A student also needs to know the college’s financial aid application deadline as well. My recommendation is to file the FAFSA well before the deadline.
Tip #5 – Have What You Need to File the FAFSA Ready Before You Begin
The most important thing you will need is your tax return from the previous year. Schedule an appointment with your accountant (if you don’t prepare your own taxes) soon after you receive your W2 form(s). You may not receive the form(s) until late January. So, arrange to meet with your accountant in early February.
If you are fortunate, your accountant will provide you with a form letting you what financial information to insert into each corresponding line item on the FAFSA.
College’s Federal School Code
You must list at least one college to receive your FAFSA information. This is done by entering the college’s Federal School Code. You can do a search here, if you are unsure what your teen’s prospective college’s code is.
Some colleges will offer financial incentives for listing their code first. It’s worth asking the admission counselor if that particular college does this.
Your teen will need his/hers Social Security Number (as well as yours) and driver’s license number.
Tip #6 – Allow Time to Complete the Form
There are 108 questions on the form. Yep, 108. You will want to set aside at least 30 minutes to complete the form. I suggest having your child sit with you during that time so he/she is aware of the process . . . a good teaching moment.
You also may want to arrange for a quiet environment that is free from distractions. Having a cup of tea nearby may help as well. 🙂
Tip #7 – Seek Help if You Need It
The directions for completing the FAFSA are online. You may download a pdf copy of the form, which includes the directions as well.
Check to see if there are any community resources available nearby that will assist you in completing the FAFSA. Some financial institutions host FAFSA workshops.
College Goal Sunday is another resource. Each state offers numerous workshops where volunteers help families complete the FAFSA. The best part is the events are free.
Tip #8 – Mark Your Calendar
The FAFSA form must be completed annually while your child is in college. Your financial information may change from year to year. The government will need the updated figures to give to your child’s college’s Financial Aid office.
Guess what? Things are changing later in 2016. The FAFSA deadline will change to October. Yep, that means going through this process twice in one year. You may learn about the changes in FAFSA filing here.
The Federal Student Aid website provides a wealth of information. I encourage you to read throughout the website to discover the steps for completing the application and what to expect after submitting the FASFA.
StudentAid.gov provides in-depth information on federal student aid programs, applying for financial aid, and repaying student loans.
Now that you have read these tips for filing the FAFSA, do you feel more confident that you can do this?
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