When it comes to the FAFSA, students typically require some help getting it done. The application takes some time to complete and requires lots of personal details, including financial or tax statements from your family’s records. But, as tedious as the process can be, it’s 100% worth it.
When you choose to ignore the FAFSA, you’re basically saying, “No, I don’t want any free money or low-cost loans for college, but thanks anyway!” But, why say no to free money? Even if you’re only eligible for a small amount, that can go a long way throughout your time in college.
Every free dollar of aid or loan to cover tuition costs can make a difference because it’s one less dollar that you have to cough up on your own this year. If you were not able to get your stimulus check, this is a great way to get some financial aid from the government to help you pay for school.
Now that you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get started on your application, let’s get into the details.
The final deadline for filing the 2019-2020 FAFSA application directly from the federal government is on June 30, 2020. Depending on where you choose to attend university, your deadlines might’ve been earlier in the year. However, even if you did not get funding from your school’s financial aid office or from your school’s state, you might still be in luck!
The federal government continues to accept FAFSA applications even after the official end of the school year. Meaning, you can still get financial aid for 2019-2020 even though your school year is over.
The average amount it takes to complete the entire application online is 30 minutes – but that’s only if you’ve completed a few initial steps beforehand:
Step 1: Create an FSA ID, if you don’t have one already
Head on over to the federal student aid website to create your Federal Student Aid ID. If you considered a dependent based on your parents’ tax forms, then you’ll need to make sure they have a Federal Student Aid ID too. This is a username and password that you can use to log in moving forward to keep tabs on the details of your college loans coming from the federal government. (So, not Sallie Mae.) You can get an estimate of how much financial aid you’re estimated to get and how much money you will owe back in loans, if any.
Step 2: Get all your paperwork in one place (physically or digitally)
All of the information you’ll need to enter about your family’s financial situation will be printed on those their tax forms. So, the best thing to do before filling out your FAFSA forms is to already have your parents’ tax forms handy. The last thing you want is to get in the productive groove, then have to stop to dig for tax forms!
A few main documents you’ll need if you’re a U.S citizen are:
- Personal identification documents, such as your driver’s license
- Past bank statements
- Social security card
- Tax forms from the past 2 years (both the income tax returns and the W-2 for 2018)
If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you’ll need an official identification such as your passport, 2018 W-2 forms and federal income tax returns and any bank statements. Your parents will need to gather tax forms as well. If they have an ITIN number used to file their taxes, then they may have a federal income tax return and W-2 forms that you’ll need to refer to.
Step 3: Complete a school search on the federal student aid website
You’ll want to have the codes handy for each of the colleges you’re applying to or the college you’ve accepted an offer from. I can’t emphasize enough how much easier and less stressful it is to complete these steps before you even begin clicking through the FAFSA application!
Step 4: Look over the final details in your Student Aid Report
Within a few days of submitting your FAFSA application, you’ll get a Student Aid Report in the mail or via email that gives you an overview of the information entered on your FAFSA. Be 100% sure to review all the details included in the report. You should also get in the habit of logging into your account with studentaid.gov every few weeks to make sure you did not make errors that need to be corrected. If you missed something but didn’t notice it, your account will flag that with a note for you to update and resubmit.
The Student Aid Report includes a very important number– your “EFC” or Expected Family Contribution. This will give you a rough idea of how much money your family will need to pay out of pocket for your full school year. You may not necessarily get all the need-based financial aid that you qualify for if you complete the FAFSA in the same month that it’s due. This is primarily because federal funding is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, make a very important note to yourself this fall that you should complete the FAFSA in October of 2020!
If you’re reading this before June 30, 2020, get applying!