Planning on taking out a loan to pay for college? The first thing you’ll need to do is fill out your FAFSA form.
The process seems simple enough, but how you answer those questions greatly affects how much financial aid you will receive.
What is the FAFSA?
If you’re just beginning the process, it’s important to know what FAFSA is. FAFSA, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a free form used by the government to provide a variety of financial aid options. This includes grants, loans, and scholarships.
The government uses your FAFSA form to determine how much money your family can provide for college. When they know what your family can pay, they determine what loans and aid you can take. It’s the most effective way for students who have little or no financial support to find funding for college.
College tuition is on the rise, and you’ll need to be financially prepared. So the FAFSA form has become more important than ever before. Fill out the form carefully to maximize your federal aid or eliminate the high-interest rates associated with private loans. With the right help and financial aid, you’ll have that much less to pay after graduation.
Follow these 5 steps to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to enjoy the most resources.
1. Apply Early
If you want to maximize the amount of money you’re eligible for, you have to file your FAFSA form early. Some financial funds have early deadlines. Others have limited amounts of funds available. So don’t lose out on the option to borrow college money simply because you waited too long to send in your forms.
You can submit your form on October 1st of the year prior to your first year of college. So if you’re looking at fall 2019 to start your college career, you can send in your FAFSA form on October 1, 2018.
Before you start filling out your form, take the time to gather the documents you will need. This includes your social security card, documentation that you are a U.S. resident or eligible noncitizen, and tax returns. You will need your parents’ tax returns from two years ago, as well as any untaxed income records or previous aid or grants you have received.
We recommend getting your documents together in September so that you’re ready to file your FAFSA form in the first week of October. For a complete list of required documents, click here.
2. Apply Online
Submit your FAFSA form online. It’s much easier than filling out the paper form, and online applications are usually processed faster.
If you have your documents in order, it should take less than an hour to fill out your form online. The system will prompt you with relevant questions (based on your answers to previous questions). With a paper form, you’ll have to read through every question. The online system will only ask you the questions that apply to you.
File your FAFSA form early and online and you’ll have much better access to the college funds you need.
3. Apply No Matter What
Some college applicants are lucky enough to have families that can afford to pay for their education.
But that does not mean you should skip your FAFSA form.
Even if you think your family makes too much money, file it anyway. The application will determine if you are eligible for funds – and you just might be. Every little bit of aid helps, and it’s worth filing in order to keep some money in your parents’ pockets.
4. Reduce Family Assets Assessed by FAFSA
FAFSA looks at certain things in order to determine your eligibility for aid. There are also certain things that they don’t take into consideration. For example, retirement accounts are not assessed as part of the FAFSA process, but checking and savings accounts are.
Parents can maximize the amount of federal funding by moving money out of savings accounts and into retirement accounts and IRAs.
FAFSA also doesn’t consider your home value. Another way to reduce your family assets is to take some of your savings and pay down your home mortgage.
Students can also reduce their assets by spending some money before applying. For example, if you have $10,000 in your savings account, you might want to spend some of that money before you submit your FAFSA form. You’ll need a laptop. You’ll need supplies for your dorm. Buy those things before you submit your form and that’s less money you’ll need to declare that you have.
5. Make Changes if your Circumstances Change
The FAFSA program allows you to make changes to your application. If your circumstances change after you have filed your form, make the necessary changes so that your info is honest and up to date. There is a deadline for changes, so check with an administrator before you do so.
Perhaps your family has suffered a major financial loss. Maybe one (or both) of your parents are recently unemployed. If these situations apply to you, you may be eligible for a much larger amount of money. It’s in your best interest to record those changes in order to maximize your aid.
If you need to amend your FAFSA form, the Department of Federal Student Aid suggests talking directly to the financial aid office at your school. You can make changes for a variety of reasons, including if you made a simple mistake on your first form. You can also add schools or delete schools that you included on your original form.
Unless your parents have your entire college fund stashed away in a savings account, fill out your FAFSA form. FAFSA makes college more accessible for more students, and it’s the best way to find aid through loans, grants, and scholarships.
Gather all your required documents. File your form early and submit it online. Take advantage of ways that you can minimize the assets that FAFSA takes into consideration. Think your parents make too much money? File anyway. If your circumstances change, amend your form to include the most up-to-date information.
You’ve worked hard to maintain solid grades throughout high school. You have goals and dreams that you need a college education to pursue. So don’t be afraid to take advantage of FAFSA. With FAFSA, you can put yourself in a good position to find the college funding you need to meet those goals and attend the school of your dreams.
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