I recently wrote several articles about the FAFSA that you might find useful – Quick Tips for the FAFSA, The FAFSA, Simplified, and Post FAFSA filing tips. These articles were originally posted on Examiner.com which is no longer online.
Quick Tips for the FAFSA
Dec 30, 2015
The 2016-2017 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available January 1. Here are some important things to note as you prepare to fill out the FAFSA for your college bound or current college student.
First, your student and one parent will need to create a FAFSA ID as your official signature for submitting the FAFSA. It works best if you can create the FAFSA ID before you start working on the actual FAFSA to save time, but isn’t vital that you do so. Once you create your FAFSA ID, keep a copy of it in a safe place as you will use it every time you make an update or create a FAFSA in subsequent years in college.
Make sure you are choosing the correct FAFSA to fill out. The FAFSA for next school year is not available until January 1, 2016. Once you go to the FAFSA website make sure you choose the “Start a new FAFSA 2016-2017” as both the 2015 and 2016 versions will be available.
If you can gather your documents in advance, it makes filling out the FAFSA much easier. You can find the list of documents as well as directions on filing the FASA on the StudentAid.ed.gov website. Taxes do not need to be filed prior to filing out the FAFSA, and in fact most families do not get their W-2s and other tax statements early enough to meet many universities priority filing dates for the FAFSA. “Don’t wait, estimate” is a common refrain you will hear about filing the FAFSA.
Finally, filing the FAFSA is always free and there is abundant help available through the FAFSA website. Many high schools and colleges host events in January to assist families with the FAFSA process. You can find the events held in Washington at the College Goal Washington website, sponsored by the Washington Student Achievement Council. Never pay to file your FAFSA
The FAFSA, Simplified
January 14, 2016
What is the FAFSA?
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid – it is a FREE form, so if you are on a website that asks you to pay – it is the wrong one!
What does the FAFSA do?
- Determines your eligibility for federal and state need-based funding, including grants, loans and work study.
- Calculates the Estimated Family Contribution “EFC” which tells a college how much your family can absorb in educational costs for a year. It is NOT the amount you will have to pay the college.
- Provides colleges with a snapshot of your families’ finances so they can determinefinancial aid eligibility based on their institutions’ awarding process and types of aid you qualify for at their school.
How does it work?
- Once the form is submitted and processed, it gets sent to the colleges you list on the form. If you have applied there and have been admitted, then the college will use that information to create a financial aid award based on the FAFSA information (for need-based aid) and academic/activities (for merit awards).
Why apply now?
- Funding is limited at colleges. Imagine in the process there is a bucket of money from which a school hands money out to students. There is more money at the beginning in the bucket than later in the year. FAFSA opens Jan 1 to fill out, so January is the “beginning” when the bucket is full. Filing the FAFSA early helps you receive priority status for financial aid awarding. Don’t wait, estimate (taxes) as colleges will use your original submission date to determine priority.
- It is strongly recommended that you create your FSA ID (electronic signature) prior to filling out the FAFSA in order to save time, but you don’t have to do so. You can create your FSA ID and use it to file and submit the FAFSA in the same sitting. The FSA ID serves as an electronic signature, but stated plainly, it’s a username and password that you can use to electronically sign the FAFSA. The student and one parent (for dependent students) each need a FSA ID, and it is strongly encouraged that you also provide an email address for your FSA ID. Email addresses need to be unique so both parent and student can’t share the same email address for the FSA ID.
- When filling out the FAFSA you will be prompted to create a “save key” which is basically like a second password. Write it down or keep in a safe place as you will need to enter that save key to go back in and make updates to the FAFSA.
- Pay attention to whether you are on the student section (blue highlight bars) or the parent section (lavender bars) in the FAFSA. You don’t want to mistakenly put parent info where the student info should be.
- After submission, review the Student Aid Report (SAR) for any errors (address, email, names, etc.) and update FAFSA as necessary.
Post-FAFSA filing tips
January 20, 2016
After filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), should you just sit back and relax? Tempting as that might sound, there are still a few things that you will need to follow up on in thefinancial aid application process.
File taxes, if required.
Go back into the FAFSA and update with income tax information about two weeks after filing. This will allow most people to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which will link FAFSA and IRS taxes and automatically upload the tax info into the FAFSA form.
Review again the Student Aid Report (SAR) and correct any errors by logging back into the FAFSA.
Know your college deadlines for admission applications, other financial aid and scholarship forms that might be required. Some of the more selective private colleges, and a few public one, require the CSS Profile form which has a fee associated with it. The FAFSA is free to file.
Check your email regularly as many colleges communicate with students through email.
If a college requests additional information, supply it promptly. About one third of students are randomly selected for verification (provide information to verify what you put on the FAFSA). Send the information in quickly so they can continue to process your financial aid.
Compare financial aid awards, which usually come out in March, from your schools. Look not only at what the bottom line is, but what the content of the award might be – did one school give you more grants and another more loans?
Many schools ask students to set up an account on their student portal website. If you do so, check there frequently for messages.
For Washington state students, apply for outside scholarships using the Washboard.org and use the resources at your high school as well. Most high schools keep a list of local or regional scholarship opportunities either on their website or student portal, such as Naviance.
You must accept your financial aid award and admission offer by May 1. You can accept all or part of the award. For example, you can decline the loans and pay that portion some other way.
Financial aid money gets released to student accounts at the beginning of each term or semester. They won’t actually hand you a check!
Reapply for financial aid every year. Next year the FAFSA opens Oct 1 and you can use 2015 tax info.