Who Wants Money for College?

October 5, 2018 juliasurtshin

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway for obtaining student financial aid. On October 1 the 2019-2020 FAFSA went live online. Therefore, students who will be attending college in 2019-2020 should file their FAFSAs as soon as possible.

Keep in Mind

1. As the name says, it is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. There is no cost
to use this form when you complete and file it at www.fafsa.gov. Do not confuse this with www.fafsa.com which is a commercial site that charges money for filing the FAFSA for you.

2. Students are required to have a FSA ID in order to sign their FAFSA electronically. The FSA ID is a username and password. To obtain a FSA ID, visit https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm. Do this before you complete the FAFSA. It can take up to three days to receive your PIN, so apply for it immediately.

3. Dependent students (almost everyone under the age of 24) must submit financial information
for one parent. That parent needs a FSA ID as well.

4. Read the instructions carefully. Specific instructions are built into the online FAFSA form. Be meticulous about understanding what must be reported and what doesn’t.

5. It is very helpful to gather all the necessary information before beginning the FAFSA. Visit  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out#documents for a list of documents to have on hand.

6.  Think carefully about using the Data Retrieval Tool (http://www.irsdataretrievaltool.com) that is available. The feature transfers information from the IRS to the FAFSA. This likely cuts (or eliminates) errors, but the downside is that for security reasons, the populated figures aren’t visible, so filers can’t see or verify the transferred information.

7. The FAFSA can be completed and submitted in more than one sitting. The application has provisions for saving information and returning to it later.

8.  The early bird gets the worm. Some sources of aid are limited and may award money on a first-come, first-served basis. The date a FAFSA is filed is the applicant’s “place in line”, so it is important that filers submit their FAFSAs as soon after October 1 as possible. Because the financial information required is based on prior-prior year tax returns (the 2019-2020 FAFSA asks for information from 2017 tax returns), so there is no reason to wait.

Common Mistakes

1. Not filing a FAFSA.

Many families don’t file the FAFSA because they assume that they won’t qualify for aid.
Never assume when money is on the line. Estimate your Expected Family Contribution at
www.finaid.org or www.fafsa4caster.gov.

Even if you don’t qualify for need-based aid, some schools are reluctant to award merit aid to
students who don’t complete a FAFSA (and CSS PROFILE if required). Further, if you want
to take advantage of students loans, or get work-study, you’ll need to file a FAFSA.

2. Filing the FAFSA in the name of the parent.

Although parents will in fact complete many FAFSAs, applications are actually students’ and must have students’ names and identification information.  Failure to keep this in mind can cause errors, delaying the processing of the application.

3. Including the name and financial information for the wrong parent.

Applicants are required to identify only one parent. For some students this is a straightforward matter. However, other students, particularly students whose parents are no longer married to one another, may find this to be a complicated issue. FAFSA instructions include detailed information about who is considered a parent and which parent to list.

4. Including assets or other financial information that isn’t required.

The FAFSA requires applicants to submit a income and asset information. However, some assets are not taken into account. For example, applicants should not include information about their parents’ equity in their primary residence or the balance in their retirement accounts. Read all instructions carefully and submit what’s required. Don’t include assets or other figures that can be excluded.

Continuing Students

Students who filed FAFSAs last year may be eligible to file Renewal FAFSAs, which prepopulate much of the information. Updated financial information must be provided and students may edit prior information as well. Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/help/fftoc01e.htm for additional information about renewing.

For additional information about completing the FAFSA visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out or contact a local college financial aid office.