FAFSA is a common acronym that students and parents will hear throughout high school and college. It stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and if students want to be considered for financial aid for their college education, it must be submitted. Students with plans of attending college during the 2015-2016 academic year can submit their FAFSA now. The FAFSA was made available on January 1, 2015.
The easiest way to submit the FAFSA is online at fafsa.gov. However, if students or parents are more comfortable mailing in the FAFSA form, a paper application is available. There are a few advantages of submitting the FAFSA online, including:
- Faster processing time. Online FAFSA applications are processed faster than paper application. According to the FAFSA website, online applications are processed in 3-5 days, while paper applications are process within 7-10 days.
- No need for transcription. Paper applications will need to be transcribed by someone at FAFSA, and mistakes can happen, especially if the handwriting is hard to read. Students and families will have the opportunity to review the information and make corrections if necessary.
- IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If the student and family have already submitted their taxes, students using the online FAFSA application can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Instead of inputting all of the tax information manually, this tool will pull information from the tax forms already submitted and save the student and parents time.
Before heading over to FAFSA.gov, students and parents should have a few items available. The items below will be needed when filling out the FAFSA:
- Federal Student Aid PIN. The FAFSA needs a signature to be submitted. However, when filling out the form online, the PIN acts as the signature. The student and one parent will need to have a PIN. The student and parent need to each request a PIN. Students and parents can create their own four-number PIN, or have one created by Federal Student Aid.
- Social security number. Students submitting the FAFSA must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen as defined by Federal Student Aid. Social security numbers are required for the student and parent(s).
- Driver’s license number. If the student has a driver’s license number, the FAFSA form asks for it. However, if the student does not have a driver’s license, this question can be skipped.
- Tax records. The FAFSA for the 2015-2016 academic year will need tax records for tax year 2014. If students or parents have not filed their taxes yet, they can estimate the amounts using information from the 2013. However, once the 2014 taxes are filed, students and parents need to update their FAFSA. Once 2014 taxes are file, students and parents can also take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
- Untaxed income information. If students or parents have untaxed income such as child support or interest income, it must be reported on the FAFSA.
- Records of assets. Students and parents will need to give information about assets such as savings and checking account balances, as well as investments such as stocks and real estate.
- List of schools that should receive FAFSA information. In addition to the FAFSA determining eligibility for federal financial aid, many institutions use the FAFSA information to determine institutional aid. Students can list up to 10 schools on the FAFSA. If students are applying to more than 10 schools, students can add more later.
The 2015-2016 FAFSA can be submitted now through June 30, 2016. However, it is best to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible because some aid is given on a first come, first serve basis. In addition, students should check with their state and all institutions they are considering to find financial aid deadlines and other requirements for financial aid. For example, some colleges also require the CSS Profile or their own financial aid application.
Take some time today to compile all of the necessary information the FAFSA requires and start filling it out today. Every little bit can help when paying for the rising cost of a college education. And remember, the FAFSA must be submitted every year a student is attending college to be eligible for financial aid.