Want Money for College? It’s Time to File Your FAFSA

(UNDATED) – The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is now open.

The FAFSA is due to the federal government on June 30, 2020. Nearly all students who apply qualify for some form of federal financial aid. All families should submit a FAFSA whether they think they will qualify for aid or not.

States and colleges impose their own deadlines, so be aware of those too.

Deadlines for state aid vary, but there are a few that distribute awards on a first-come, first-served basis. But schools often establish priority filing dates, which can be as early as Dec. 1.

Since institutional aid is typically offered on a first-come, first-served basis, filing the FAFSA early may help minimize student loans as your family navigates the landscape of paying for college.

The U.S. Department of Education awards more than $122.4 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds, according to the most recent Federal Student Aid annual report. The agency reports that federal funds assist nearly 13 million students in completing their education.

Federal financial aid can be awarded, such as with a grant; borrowed; or earned through work experience.

filling out the FAFSA can be a confusing, complex process for most families. The paper version of the FAFSA has more than 100 questions – that’s twice as long as the standard federal income tax form.

The online FAFSA, however, uses skip-logic technology to present applicants with relevant questions. The amount of time it will take to complete the FAFSA can vary. Completion time is typically longer for dependent students because they must provide both their own information and their parent’s information. It also typically takes longer to complete the FAFSA the first time, compared with subsequent submissions as students progress through college.

Who Is Eligible to Receive Federal Student Aid?

U.S. citizens, nationals, legal permanent residents and individuals who have an Arrival-Departure Record from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services showing certain designations, including refugees, are eligible to apply for federal student aid. Students need to be enrolled in a Title IV-eligible program, meaning one that can receive federal financial aid funds, to qualify.

The FAFSA asks for information about income, assets and demographic factors, such as household size and the number of children enrolled in college at the same time. This information is used to calculate the expected family contribution, often referred to as EFC, which determines eligibility for federal student aid. For instance, if the EFC is zero, then the student will most likely qualify for a Pell Grant – a federal award based on financial need.

Families that earn $26,000 or less annually are calculated as an automatic zero for the EFC in the 2020-2021 award year.

But even families with higher incomes qualify for some type of aid.

What Is an FSA ID and How Do I Get One?

The first step, before filling out the FAFSA, is to create an FSA ID, which serves as an electronic signature. Parents and students can find a link to obtain an FSA ID through the Federal Student Aid website. To create a unique ID, applicants will need their Social Security number, date of birth and their name as it appears on official documents.

The FSA ID is required in order to sign the FAFSA online and to log in to the myStudentAid mobile app.

Parents and students will need to generate their own specific IDs, since applicants aren’t allowed to create one on someone else’s behalf. A parent who does not have a Social Security number cannot create an FSA ID. On the online FAFSA form, a student can enter all zeros where it asks for the parent’s Social Security number, and then select the option to print a signature page at the end of the application.

For students age 24 and under who are seeking an associate or bachelor’s degree, both a student and parent FSA ID are required unless the student is considered independent on the FAFSA.

To be considered independent on the form, the student must be married; a veteran or current member of the armed forces; an orphan; an emancipated minor; a homeless youth or one at risk of being homeless; a parent who provides more than half of the financial support for a child or dependent; or have received foster care or been a ward of the court for any period after age 13.

Graduate and professional students are considered independent on the FAFSA.

What Type of Information Do I Need to Complete the FAFSA?

There’s a list of a paperwork needed to complete the FAFSA. Students will need their Social Security number, driver’s license number or state ID, tax information, records of untaxed income, current bank statements and investments – if any – along with the list of schools where they are interested in attending. Parents will need their tax information, records of untaxed income, net worth and investment information and current bank statements.

The FAFSA uses tax information from the prior year – verified tax returns from two years ago. A family completing the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 academic year, for instance, will use the 2018 tax return. The use of verified tax returns from the prior year reduces the need to use estimates on the form.

What Do I Need to Know About the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

Students and their families can save time with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, called DRT, which automatically transfers tax information to the online application. This feature is also available on the mobile app.

To use the tool, income tax returns from the prior year need to have been filed electronically two to three weeks prior to completing the FAFSA. If the tax returns were filed via mail, then applicants need to allow at least eight weeks before using the tool.

Under the financial information section of the FAFSA, an applicant can click “Link to IRS” to prefill the form with the prior tax year details. When using the tool, the applicant will be transferred to the IRS website. After the information transfers, the site will direct the user back to the FAFSA application.

Where Do I Find the FAFSA?

Students can fill out the online FAFSA application using their computer or mobile phone. Alternatively, the paper version, known as the PDF FAFSA, can be printed and filled out manually or filled in on the screen prior to printing and mailing.

The mobile version of the FAFSA launched last year and will continue to be available when the 2020-2021 FAFSA opens on Oct. 1. The Department of Education’s phone-friendly version aims to increase FAFSA completion rates.

To complete the form via mobile phone or a tablet, families will need to download the myStudentAid app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play.

What Happens After I Submit the FAFSA?

After submitting the FAFSA, the applicant will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR. The report includes the applicant’s responses to the form’s questions as well as the federal EFC if the application is complete. The Department of Education sends this report via email or postal mail.

The SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data submitted, so applicants should review it carefully for any mistakes. Once you submit it, you can always make changes. You have to wait a day or two, but a family can go back in and update their FAFSA.

Some FAFSA forms are selected by the Department of Education for verification. About one-third of individuals who submit the form are asked to provide proof of their information through the verification process.

Who Do I Contact if I Need Help With the FAFSA?

Students and families with questions about the FAFSA can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center, known as the FSAIC, which provides support on behalf of the Department of Education.

The FSAIC is available at 800-433-3243, or 800-730-8913 for applicants who are hearing-impaired. Questions can also be submitted via emailweb chat or through the agency’s social media platforms on Twitter and Facebook.

Information provided by US News & World Reportt, https://www.usnews.com

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