Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can sometimes be tricky. The following pointers should help you through the process.
Why fill out a FAFSA?
The FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid process. It is used to apply for federal financial aid, such as grants, student loans, and work-study. Even if you don't think you are eligible for financial aid, you should still fill it out because many states and schools also use it to award non-federal aid.
Online or paper?
There are two ways to complete the FAFSA. You can do it online at www.fafsa.ed.gov or you can submit a paper copy, which you can get by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. Most financial aid administrators prefer the online method because it cuts the processing time in half. If you file the FAFSA online, make sure to get a PIN number sometime in December, so you will be ready to complete the form as soon as possible after January 1st. Filling out the FAFSA is free when you go through www.fafsa.ed.gov, so be sure to type in the correct web address. Some websites with similar names will charge a fee to submit your application.
When is it due?
Deadlines for aid from your state, school, and private sources are usually earlier than deadlines for federal aid. Most colleges have financial aid priority deadlines in early February; therefore, it is important that you apply for aid as soon as possible after January 1st.
What materials are needed to fill out the FAFSA?
Student's driver's license and Social Security card
Income tax returns or as close an estimate as possible
W-2 forms and other records of money earned
Current bank statements
Records and documentation of other untaxed income received such as welfare benefits, Social Security income, veteran's benefits, AFDC, or military or clergy allowances
Records of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments
Current mortgage information
Business or farm records (if applicable)
How can errors be avoided?
Do not leave a field blank. If a question does not apply to you, write N/A.
Use the 1040 federal tax return, not the W-2 form, for reporting income and taxes paid.
Don't use nicknames. Use your legal name as it appears on your Social Security card.
Don't forget to sign the application. Your parents must sign it too if you are filing as a dependent.
What happens next?
You should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) in approximately three to four weeks after you submit your FAFSA. This report will state your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), restate what you put on the FAFSA, and give you the opportunity to correct wrong information. A financial aid administrator at your college will then put together your financial aid package and send you an award letter around the end of March or first of April. The award letter will tell you what financial aid you are eligible to receive.
If you are unclear about a question or are having trouble filling out the FAFSA, please contact someone in your college's financial aid office or the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID.