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‘Tis the Season – Getting Ready to Apply for Financial Aid

11.07.2013, by Susan Conolly

Kerri Beckert, Parent to Parent Trainer

As the leaves turn and Old Man Winter starts to make his presence known, the thoughts of parents with college-bound students everywhere turn not to turkeys and trees, but to the impending FAFSA; another Financial Aid season starts soon.  The Financial Aid season officially begins January 1st, 2014, the first day that the Federal government allows parents to start submitting the FAFSA.  For many parents and students, it is a day which looms over the holiday season itself…. waking us up in the middle of the night with worries such as “what if my w-2 gets lost in the mail?” or “what if we don’t qualify?”

Here are some quick tips for all those parents to help them get through FAFSA season unscathed.

1.   Download a FAFSA worksheet from http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1314/pdf/fafsaws13c.pdf 
      The FAFSA worksheet is a great organizational tool which can help parents identify the information they need to complete the FAFSA online.

2.   Know your deadlines.
      Both states and universities have deadlines for submitting your information to receive financial aid.   Knowing these deadlines can help avoid last minute stress.  Plan on filing the FAFSA at least  10 days before the earliest deadline    
      applicable. (State deadlines and university deadlines don’t always match.  Use the earlier of the two.)

3.   For returning students, try to complete the FAFSA before your student returns for their spring semester.  Having your student around to electronically sign documents or find information can alleviate last minute scrambling.

4.   Don’t wait to do the FAFSA until your taxes are done. Using your best estimates is an acceptable practice (and actually suggested by the Department of Education).  For military parents, using your end of year LES is an easy way to retrieve
      much of the necessary information.

5.   Don’t panic if you are selected for verification.  The government selects about 1 in every 25 applications for income and asset verification.  Many times military families are selected as their income can fluctuate greatly from year to year
      depending on COLA, BAH, PCS, and deployment pay. Selection for verification does not hinder your financial aid process or award.

6.   Use the IRS Retrieval Tool on the FAFSA on the web.  Beginning in 2013, parents who submitted their taxes electronically to the IRS can use the information retrieval tool to help transfer information from their  taxes to their FAFSA. 

7.   Don’t be afraid to ask the school’s financial aid office for help or information.  Financial aid offices are a wealth of information. You can also get help from  the Federal Student Aid offices:
      Either online at www.fafsa.gov , or you can call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). TTY users (hearing impaired) can call 1-800-730-8913.

8.   Remember that the FAFSA stands for FREE Application for Federal Financial Aid.  Filing your FAFSA costs nothing and is provided by FAFSA.GOV.  Any other FAFSA website (as in .com or .net) are NOT part of the Federal Financial Aid
      system and are not authorized by the government.

9.   Many private colleges and universities use the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA. Some schools may even have their own additional financial aid application. Check out the school’s website or call their financial aid office to find out exactly
      which forms and information they need.  The CSS profile can be found at http://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile . Know that the profile is managed by the College Board and is a private organization. The information used in 
      the CSS profile may be different than the FAFSA.

10.  Lastly, encourage your student to fill out as many scholarship applications as possible over the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.  Although many schools count scholarship money against awards, it is normally used to offset student loan
       amounts. Remind your student that part of their job is to contribute to their own education, and scholarships are a great way of doing so!  Look for scholarships in your local community through churches, community organizations, Boy Scouts
       and Girl Scouts, Wives Clubs, Military Thrift Stores, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fisher House Charities, the Commissary, and many more

Good Luck to all of you – parents and college bound students - and may the FAFSA be with you!