Are You Ready for the FAFSA?
Meghan Brown posted on September 25, 2017 |
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines financial aid eligibility.

This year’s student financial aid season officially begins on October 1, and it’s a prime opportunity for families with students heading to college next year to begin tackling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Completing the FAFSA is the essential first step to receiving any type of financial aid; federal loan programs and individual institutions use this information to put together financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and some scholarships require it as part of their application.

By completing the FAFSA, students can gain access to more than $120 billion in grants, work-study funds and federal student loans.

“It’s that time of year to celebrate the return of fall and football, and for college-bound families, the FAFSA,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president of the college financial planning company Sallie Mae. “Regardless of whether you think you will qualify for funding, don’t fumble by simply not completing the application.”

Sallie Mae offers seven key points to help families make it through FAFSA season:

1.     Get started early. Complete the FAFSA as early as you can: as a high school senior — and every year in college, even graduate school. Filing out a new FAFSA each year is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and the amount of aid can vary year-over-year.

2.     Review the application package before you begin. Before starting to fill out the FAFSA forms, both parents and students should create a username and password — their Federal Student Aid ID — and pull together all the information needed, including Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, the previous year’s tax returns, and W-2 forms. Having this information ready and waiting before October 1 can make the application process go much smoother.

3.     Don’t procrastinate. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds. This means that the earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better the chance to receive some of that aid. Additionally, families who complete and submit the FAFSA soon after October 1 may receive financial aid award letters from schools earlier. Award letter timing varies by school, so check with financial aid offices and school websites for more information.

4.     Use the additional tools you have available. Take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import and convert tax information directly into the FAFSA. After some critical changes were made to address privacy and security issues, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is scheduled to be back online by Oct. 1. More applicants and parents will be eligible to use the tool this year as amended tax return filers can now utilize it to transfer their IRS tax return information from their original tax return into the FAFSA form.

5.     Watch out for scams and tricks. The only way to fill out a FAFSA is at Filing the FAFSA is always free, so beware of sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Students can reduce the risk of identity theft by keeping their Federal Student Aid ID confidential and any suspected fraudulent account activity should be reported immediately.

6.     The earlier you file, the earlier you will receive important information in return. Completing the FAFSA earlier means receiving critical information sooner, such as the Student Aid Report (SAR) . The SAR provides both basic information about student eligibility for federal student aid and answers to the FAFSA questions. The SAR also includes the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which provides a clearer picture about eligibility for financial aid as families begin applying to colleges. Families who complete the FAFSA online typically receive their SAR within three to five days.

7.     Include your top college choices. Families should list at least one school on the FAFSA. Some state aid is based on the order of how schools are listed, so families should consider listing state schools first to be in line for state aid. Additional information, including state deadlines for completing the FAFSA, is available at

Sallie Mae also created a “Beginner’s Guide to FAFSA” video:

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