Did you know that another big event occurred shortly after midnight on October 1? For high school seniors, college students, and their parents, October 1 marks the first availability of the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for the 2018-19 college academic year. Unlike Paul Revere shouting to unaware colonists that “the British are coming,” college financial aid advisors have been talking about this day for a long time. While students and parents should be well aware of this important first step on the road to qualifying for financial aid, some might still be taken by surprise that the filing period is actually here.
As you may know, completing the FAFSA is the access portal to qualifying for your share of billions of dollars in federal grants, work-study funds, and loans each year, as well as state and institutional financial aid. Yet many families fail to take the time necessary to fill out the form correctly or, even worse, fail to complete it at all. Despite the seemingly unending barrage of information, there are still some misconceptions about completing the FAFSA, so let’s set the record straight once and for all:
• You can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: You will need access to your 2016 federal income tax return information to complete this year’s FAFSA. While there were some problems with last year’s form, the Department of Education has announced that new encryption protections have been added and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available for the online 2018–19 FAFSA.
• You cannot know for sure that you don’t qualify: Some families fail to file the FAFSA solely because they believe they do not qualify for any form of financial aid, but you never really know until you do submit the form. Since the FAFSA provides information for many types of financial aid as well as student loans, it is always best to complete it as soon as possible. That way you will maximize your chances of qualifying for any limited financial aid sources, and minimize the need to scurry for information if you suddenly find out that you do indeed need to submit the form.
• You might not have as much time as you think: Although you do have until June 30 to complete the FAFSA, there are many state and institutional financial aid deadlines that fall well before that timeframe.
If there were major changes in your financial situation during 2017, gather your financial documentation and make your case directly to the financial aid office at your prospective colleges.
When it comes to completing the FAFSA, take your time, but get it done now! Learn more in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, which contains information on financial aid, saving for college, paying for college, and student loans. Order it now, and start your journey to financial aid success.