Okay, so another school year is up and running and it’s starting to feel like fall again. You are “ruling the roost” as a high school senior, and planning on one great year. You’ve narrowed the college list down to a few favorites and are making progress on the college applications when you look at the calendar and suddenly notice that it is almost October 1, 2019! Panic sets in as you realize that you will soon have to complete the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 academic year if you have any hope of getting financial aid from the federal government, your state, the college itself, and even some college scholarships.
You know that completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid early and correctly can be the key to accessing many types of financial aid, some of which only have limited funding available. Here are some steps you can take now to make sure you are ready to fill out the FAFSA when it comes online in October:
• Get Your FSA ID Now: You will need an FSA ID username and password to log in to the FAFSA website. You can complete this step now so you don’t have to waste valuable time later. The student and one parent of the dependent student each need to create their own separate FSA ID.
• Get a Social Security Number: If you’re working and paying income taxes you already have a Social Security Number. But if you don’t have an SSN already, you will need one to complete the FAFSA. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need an Alien Registration Number.
• Tax Records: The 2020-21 FAFSA will be completed using information from your 2018 federal income tax return, which should already be filed. Unless you had to file an extension, you should be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to complete this part of the FAFSA. Just to be safe, you might still want to have your 2017 tax return and 2017 IRS W-2 available if you need to refer back to them. If your income is substantially lower in 2018 you still need to use last year’s information, and then contact your schools directly to supply additional information and documentation.
• Untaxed Income: Gather documentation regarding untaxed income such as child support, interest income, and veteran’s non-education benefits from the 2018 tax or calendar year.
• Assets: Get a list together of savings and checking account balances, as well as investments such as stocks, bonds and real estate. This information will be reported as of the date you sign the FAFSA.
• List of Colleges: You will need to supply a list of up to ten colleges you are interested in attending so the Department of Education can forward the information from your FAFSA directly to them. You can include schools on this list even though you have not yet submitted an official admissions application to them. Be sure you know whether your state requires you to provide schools in a specific order, such as listing the state schools first.
Be sure to have your driver’s license handy, if you have one. Remember, you may want to pay an advisor to help you complete the form but you never have to pay a fee to submit the FAFSA itself. You can file an electronic FAFSA at the official www.fafsa.gov website, or use the new myStudentAid mobile app. The app is available from both the Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android). You can download a copy of the FAFSA form at https://studentaid.ed.gov or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 334-523-2691 (TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing 1-800-730-8913) to request a copy in English, Spanish, or Braille.
When you’re ready, set aside some time in a quiet area and start working through the application. The Department of Education has made the process as easy as possible, and provides plenty of helpful tips along the way. Once you have completed everything, go back and check your answers carefully. Use the exact name that is on your Social Security card and check your Social Security number twice. Good luck!