The FAFSA is the starting point of almost every kind of student financial aid in the United States. To get the most aid possible and to minimize mistakes, it’s important to do the following.
1. Fill it out as soon as you can. The FAFSA for the next school year usually comes out in January. So if you’re applying for school in Fall of ’08, you need to get your hands on the FAFSA or apply on-line in January of ’08. The deadline at most schools is March 1st, but it can’t hurt to get in early. A lot of financial aid at colleges is distributed on a first come, first served basis to those who are eligible.
2. You don’t need to have your taxes done before you fill out the FAFSA. You can estimate using the tax forms or figuring your taxes on-line, and then file an updated FAFSA later when you get your W-2s and other documents such as mortgage interest statements. Just be sure that you are very accurate in your estimation, or you could end up believing you’re going to get aid that you turn out not to be eligible for later on.
3. Be as accurate as you can. Follow the directions exactly if you’re doing the paper application. Many times FAFSAs are rejected because the person missed an important field or they entered their social security number incorrectly. Your college’s student financial aid advisers can’t give you aid until your FAFSA goes through the federal system. The more mistakes you have, the longer it will take for your aid to get what they call “packaged”, meaning you could lose out on some “first come first served” aid.
4. If you’re a male, be sure that you have registered for Selective Service. If you’re over the age of 18, male and you have not registered for Selective Service, your FAFSA will be rejected.
5. If your family’s income has changed dramatically since the year before, you can file an amended FAFSA. If your family’s income has decreased since the previous tax year, talk to your financial aid adviser about either filing and amended FAFSA or doing a professional judgment. That way your eligibility for aid will be based on your current income instead of that for the previous tax year.
The same thing is true if your parents have added a dependent since the previous tax year.
6.Don’t lie on your FAFSA. The government randomly flags a certain percentage of FAFSAs for the school to verify. That means that a certain percentage of students will be required to prove things like income, number of family members, or student status of other family members. If they find out that you lied, you will not only lose your aid, but you can be charged with a federal crime.
7.If you file on-line, be sure to print out the signature page and mail it in. Your application will not be processed without the signature page. If you don’t want to go with that option, you or your parent can apply for a PIN. See the department of education’s website for more information. http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/before001.htm
8. If your parents are divorced, the parent you lived with the most in the last tax year is the one whose income you’ll include on the application.
9. You are considered dependent and have to include your parents’ income on the FAFSA unless you meet a list of requirements such as you are over the age of 24, you are married, you are in grad school, you’re an honorably discharged veteran or ward of the court. If you have special circumstances with your parents that you feel would deem you financially independent, talk to your financial aid adviser about getting a professional judgment.
Whether your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes has nothing to do with whether you’re considered a dependent in terms of the FAFSA.
No matter what, be sure to have at least one meeting with your financial aid adviser before the school year starts. If you have any questions or problems, they can help you. Also there might be options that you haven’t thought of or don’t know about that can be beneficial to you.
If you need further help in filling out the FAFSA, ask your financial aid advisor or see the department of education’s website: