At this time of year parents are pulling together their 1040s, W-2 and other financial paperwork as they get ready to settle down and prepare their federal and state tax returns. It is also the time that parents of college bound students should also prepare their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is the perfect time to prepare your child's FAFSA, as much of the income and asset information will be right in front of you as you complete the tax returns.
For those students who are currently in their senior year of high school, January is a critical time to complete and submit your FAFSA. Many colleges set priority deadlines for FAFSA applications for incoming freshman as early as February 1st. For returning college students, the institutional deadline can be as late as August 15th. Students need to contact the Financial Aid Office of each college to which they have applied to for admission to determine all financial deadlines.
Early Bird Gets The Worm
By getting your financial aid application in as early as possible and before the priority deadline, you increase your opportunity for a larger financial aid award. Simply put, financial aid is awarded on a First Come, First Served Basis. Colleges and universities have a finite amount of financial aid and scholarship funds available and you don't want to miss out on your top college choice, because you missed the college's financial aid deadline. If the college's deadline is approaching and you have not received all your financial documents, you may estimate your income and assets, particularly if your income and assets have not changed significantly from the previous year. Keep in mind that you will need to update the information once you have all the needed documents. Estimating your FAFSA data gets your financial aid folder on a counselor's desk for review that much quicker.
Choose How to File
There are three methods to file a FAFSA. You may apply on line at http://www.fafsa.edu.gov/ ans complete the FAFSA on the Web (FOW) application, which is the Department of Education's preferred method. You may want to print out and complete the FAFSA On the Web worksheet, before entering the data online.
Other FAFSA worksheets available for downloading are:
Dependency Status Worksheet-used to determine if the student is Independent.
Student's Income Estimator Worksheet- used if student has not filed a 2008 federal tax form.
Parent's Income Estimator Worksheet- used if the parent's have not filed a federal 2008 tax form.
Drug Conviction Worksheet- used to determine if a student has a conviction for possession or sale of illegal drugs that could make the student ineligible to receive federal financial aid.
You may also download a PDF version of the FAFSA form. With this method you must mail the completed application to be processed. A paper FAFSA is also available by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. The hearing impaired should contact the TTY line at 1-800-730-8813.
Renewal Application Makes Process Easy
For current college students who applied for financial last year, the Renewal FAFSA allows you to update only the data that has changed from the previous year's form. FAFSA and Renewal FAFSA applications may be completed in paper form or on the web through the US Department of Education Website http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
Addressing Special Circumstances
In the current economy many families may be faced with unanticipated circumstances such as a loss of a job, home foreclosure, etc. The FAFSA should initially be completed with the income information for the year requested. Once it is completed, you should arrange to speak with the Financial Aid Director at the college to request a Professional Judgement Review. This a formal process, where the Aid Administrator will review your situation based on your current circumstances to determine if your eligibility for financial aid can be increased. Be prepared to provide documentation to relevant to your situation, (i.e. unemployment paperwork, layoff letter, notice of foreclosure).
So, remember when you sit down to prepare your tax returns, sit a few minutes longer and complete your FAFSA to maximize your financial aid award.