Going to college is a big achievement and a big investment. Congratulations if you were accepted into one of the U.S.’s institutions of higher learning for the 2019-2020 school year. Now, it’s time to fill out the Free Application for Free Student Aid form, which opened for submissions on Oct. 1.
What is FAFSA?
The United States Department of Education and your chosen school use the financial information you provide on the FAFSA to determine the work-study programs, federal grants and loans you’re eligible for. Hopefully, these opportunities will make paying for college easier.
Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for student aid, the experts at the Evisors Network recommend filling the form out anyway. While FAFSA forms help students in need, they’re often required for non-need-based federal student loans. The income cutoffs for grants are also different at the federal, state and institution levels, so it’s best to take the time to submit the FAFSA to make sure you don’t miss out on any help you’re eligible for.
Create your FSA ID
Before you invest time in filling out your FAFSA form, the U.S. Department of Education recommends creating a Federal Student Aid identification number. Besides being instrumental to your FAFSA form, a FSA ID will help you log into other areas of the department’s website. You, the student who wants financial assistance, need to create your own FSA ID, even if you are financially dependent on someone else. If your parents will be providing a lot of information on your form, they need to apply for their own number. These FSA ID numbers are the equivalent of a digital signature on all of your forms, so make sure everything is accurate when you create the profile.
As with most government forms, you’ll still need your Social Security number to fill out your 2019-2020 FAFSA form. If you are not a U.S. citizen, the Department of Education allows you to use your Alien Registration number if you meet the eligibility requirements for Federal Student Aid (potentially supplemented by your driver’s license number).
Bring out old taxes
For the FAFSA form, you or your parents need to provide income information from previous tax years. For the 2019-2020 year, the Department of Education requests the information from the 2017 tax year. This helps you get a jump on filing your FAFSA forms, since your 2017 returns were already filled out when the application opened in October, but complete 2018 information was unavailable yet.
If your tax return is eligible, you might not even need your tax records. You’ll be able to utilize the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool to input a lot of information. It’s still a good idea to know where the 2017 information is, just in case.
Know your schools and deadlines
It’s possible that you don’t know yet if your dream school has accepted you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t file your FAFSA form. You can list up to 10 schools to automatically get your financial aid information. It’s important to know what your possible institutions’ deadlines are for FAFSA submission. According to NerdWallet, the deadline for FAFSA on the federal side for 2019-2020 is actually as late as June 30, 2020, but deadlines for state and institution aid are much earlier than that (and different in every case).
No matter what the deadlines are, you should have your FAFSA form filed as early as possible. Individual schools usually have several grants and opportunities, like work-study programs, that they offer to early applicants until they run out.
If you’re planning on attending college, filling out a FAFSA form is an important step. For individual deadline information, contact the school you’re applying to for more details.