When the word “FAFSA” comes up among parents, there is normally a fair amount of eye rolling and sighing. “What a pain.” “It’s so confusing.” “Why bother—we probably won’t qualify.”
I agree that it can be a painful process; however, it’s an important one. If you and your family need help paying for college, you should maximize your financial aid chances, which the FAFSA lets you do.
So, clear your calendar and complete the FAFSA this week. I have some tips to help you get it done.
First, A Little Background
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form helps the government identify the types of financial aid (loans, grants, work-study) that you may be eligible for as a college student.
You have to complete the FAFSA every year you attend school and wish to receive financial aid. If you are about to enter college, this all may be new to you and your parents. I assure you, though: If I can figure out how to complete it, you and your parents can too! Just keep the following in mind.
1. Know your deadlines. Check with your college or schools you are applying to and find out their individual FAFSA deadlines. Being on time or ahead of the deadline is key to maximizing your chances of getting aid. If they don’t require the form until March, do it early anyway.
2. Remember the “free” in “FAFSA.” Go to the correct, free website (https://fafsa.ed.gov/) to fill out the FAFSA. Some websites out there will charge a fee to help you complete or submit your FAFSA. You do not need to pay anyone for this (OK, maybe you can bribe your parents if they do it for you). If you want help, check out the #AskFAFSA Q&A on Twitter or look for free events in your area.
3. Create a PIN. Get started by inputting your name, birth date, and Social Security number on the site. Then, create the optional PIN number. This will allow you to sign the form electronically (recommended—it just makes it easier, and I’m all about easy solutions). You’ll also want to hang onto that PIN, as you’ll use it each year you complete the form.
4. Print the FAFSA on the Web worksheet. This worksheet goes into the full detail of what you need to know, with the sections on your mom and dad’s finances highlighted in purple. It gives details on the individual questions to explain what goes where. Fill in the FAFSA worksheet before trying to input everything online. This will save time for sure.
5. Take your time. Allow a few days for the whole process—this includes the time it takes to figure out whether you or your parents are doing the heavy lifting. Even then, it may take a while to collect and input all the data from your parents’ and your records.
6. Estimate, if you need to. For two of my three college-aged kids, the FAFSA is due on February 1. Since we’re still waiting for some required tax information (W2s and 1099s), we’ll have to estimate this information based on last year’s earnings. You can do the same, if you need to. (Just remember that you’ll have to go back to update your form. Sorry, you don’t get off that easy.)
Just Do It
So, put on some comfy sweatpants, stream some decent music, roll up your sleeves, pour a Red Bull (if necessary), and get the FAFSA done!
Talk to you parents, and see if they can help you (or maybe even complete it for you). My kids get off easy—they send me the reminder email, and I just do it (call me an enabler if you must …). In the end, though, my wallet thanks me once the aid packages come in.
Have you done your FASFA for 2014 yet? Did you get help from anyone? Let us know in the comments.