The start of the year launched a new season for families with students attending college this fall: Welcome to financial aid season.
And with that comes filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines eligibility for federal and state financial aid.
"We recommend that every student fill it out, no matter their income status or whether they think they'll qualify for aid," says Brittania Morey, director of communication at the Iowa College Access Network (ICAN), "because not only do they not know what they could qualify for, but if they have to take out a student loan, the FAFSA is the only way you can get a federal student loan."
The free form is available from the U.S. Department of Education.
Not sure how to get started? ICAN, a nonprofit that provides support to students applying for financial aid, offers these tips:
- Get PINs. Each student and at least one parent should request a personal identification number prior to filling out the FAFSA. The PIN allows parents and students to sign the online form electronically and make changes later.
- Be prepared. Several pieces of information for the student and the parent are needed: Social Security numbers, dates of birth and driver's license numbers.Most recent state and federal tax statements. W-2 forms and records of all income from last year (taxed and untaxed). Bank and investment statements. Farm and business records. Alien registration numbers for those who aren't U.S. citizens.
- File electronically. It's quicker than completing a paper form, reduces errors and speeds up processing time.
- Repeat once a year. The FAFSA needs to be filled out each year students plan to attend college.
- Ask for help. The FAFSA on the Web Worksheet helps families organize their information. You also can contact ICAN for free assistance; call 877-272-4692 to make an appointment for one-on-one help over the phone or in person at the Cedar Rapids College Planning Center. Free help also is available across Iowa during the week of Feb. 18-26 during Iowa College Goal Sunday.
Read our next post to learn about common FAFSA-filing pitfalls - and how to avoid them.
By Emily Kittle