If you’re a college student, odds are, you already know you can submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on January 1. We can’t encourage these college students enough to file early because it is most certainly a program that operates on a “first come, first serve” basis.
New Year, New Forms
As college students know, too, these forms must be filled out each year if they wish to continue receiving student aid. It’s crucial applications are submitted as soon as possible, especially for those who have already invested time into their college educations. Brad Hodge, Vice President of Finance of at Post University, said,
Even if you are uncertain if you will attend a college or university during the next academic year, you should still file your FAFSA to ensure you are in the pool for all potential aid dollars available.
There’s another reason why filing earlier, too. It can give students a head start for the competition for institutional gift aid. Hodge explains,
Whereas loans are always available, the availability of university grants and scholarships, which do not need to be repaid upon graduation, ends once those funds have been exhausted. It is typically the students who apply early in the process who get first priority for this university funding.
Because college students can sometimes procrastinate, especially when it comes to ensuring the paperwork and loose ends are tended to before heading off to college, there are a few ways that families and their college bound students can help ensure a smoother process.
Dependent and Filer
It’s important to differentiate between who official FAFSA filer is and dependent students. While the college student is always the FAFSA filer, if their parents are supporting their students, they are also the dependent student. This has a couple of repercussions. First, if the student is listed as dependent, then his parents are who claim him on tax returns. Also, the filing status can affect whether or not a student will be able to gain approval for a credit card. Remember, the new law states that before anyone under the age of 21 is able to legally qualify for a loan in the form of a credit card, he must show he is fully self-sufficient. His parents claiming him as a dependent essentially knocks that option out.
If the student isn’t relying on his parents, he may file FAFSA as an independent – but he must be fully capable of supporting himself to the satisfaction of the school. If both the student and his parents are listed on the application, each receive their own PIN number.
Including or excluding parents’ personal and financial information will have different impacts. For instance, the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), used to determine eligibility for a Pell grant or additional financial support, will be affected.
Remember too that it’s not necessary to furnish a finished tax report. It makes it easier; however, families may complete the paperwork with estimated tax details wit the understanding that they may need to edit the forms after taxes have been filed. Karen McCarthy, spokesperson for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), says,
Meeting state and institutional deadlines is more important than completing the FAFSA with final tax information and families should complete the FAFSA with estimated information if necessary by the applicable deadline.
If there have been between three and six weeks since the paper work was filed and the time the family filed their tax returns, it’s possible the Department of Education will be able to retrieve the IRS tax return after first submitting or updating the FAFSA.
Finally, be sure to gather all of your required documents and information. It goes without saying the better organized you are, the faster the process. Taking the time now to find their 2012 W-2 forms, along with the methods of getting specific balance information on banking, savings or college accounts, will save a lot of time and likely much more frustration. Murray strongly encourages college students and their families to do so.
This is often the first financial contract a college student enters into, unless, of course, he has already applied for a credit car or car loan and is in the process of paying his balances down. Students might still be required to complete or submit other documentation. The entrance counseling process is crucial in most states and signing the Master Promissory Note at www.studentloans.gov is mandatory, as well.
There may be some students who have been selected for a process called verification, where the Department of Education has asked Office of Financial Aid administrators to double check an item or several items that were on the FAFSA, just to make sure an error hasn’t been made.
Finally, the earlier you file, the better your odds are of gaining the financial support. Plus, it’s one burden off of you as you prepare for this big life change. Remember, funding is always limited.
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