Whether you find it exciting, stressful, or both, the time to apply to college has arrived. That also means finding a way to pay for it. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the best place to start. Here’s a list of helpful ‘hacks.’
Sallie Mae, the nation’s leading saving, planning and paying for college company, [has] introduced new tips and resources to help families navigate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA—the key to unlocking financial aid for college—gathers information about income, assets, and family demographics in order to calculate a family’s expected contribution to college expenses and determine their eligibility for federal student aid.
An estimated 21 million students are getting ready to fill out the FAFSA, which officially becomes available on Jan. 1. With this in mind, Sallie Mae offers the following “life hacks” for filling out the FAFSA in 2015:
· Set your alarm clock for 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1. Students should submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after Jan. 1 to maximize the chances of qualifying for financial aid. Some funds are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
· Forget about forgetting deadlines. It’s important for families to learn their state’s submission deadline for the FAFSA. Deadlines vary by state, and some school and state deadlines are as early as February. State deadlines can be found on the FAFSA website. Families can use the free College Ahead Mobile App from Sallie Mae to keep track of important deadlines.
· Assume nothing. Students and parents shouldn’t assume their income is too high or they have too much savings to qualify for federal aid. Income and savings aren’t the only factors that decide qualification, and the only way to know is to complete the FAFSA.
· Complete the FAFSA online. It’s easiest and fastest to fill out the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. When students submit the FAFSA online, it will be processed within 3-5 days. Families can mail in the application, but it takes 2-4 weeks.
· Gather important tax documents. Consider using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the FAFSA application to easily and accurately transfer tax return information directly into your application.
· If it’s not free, it’s not FAFSA. Avoid anything that isn’t free when it comes to submitting the FAFSA. Watch out for websites that charge you to file or ask for any credit card information.
“The FAFSA should be the first stop for families when it comes to paying for college but filling it out doesn’t have to be overwhelming,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “Our simple and straightforward tips are designed to take some of the mystery out of the process and get families on the right track towards making an informed decision about how to pay for college.”
Students and families should also be aware of recent changes to the FAFSA:
· Log In changes: Coming Spring 2015, the user generated Federal Student Aid “PIN” that allows students to sign their FAFSA online, check status of application and resubmit subsequent years, will be replaced by a Federal Student Aid ID. The Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID is a user-selected login ID and password and will be used as the single login ID for student- and borrower-based websites, including FAFSA. Families can track updates on this change here: ifap.ed.gov/ifap/
· Clarified definitions of “parents”: The FAFSA collects financial information from dependent students’ legal parents regardless of marital status or gender, if those parents live together. The form now provides an option for dependent students to describe their parents’ marital status as “unmarried and both parents living together.”
When it comes to paying for college, Sallie Mae recommends following the 1-2-3 approach: students should first fill out the FAFSA and maximize money that does not need to be repaid such as scholarships and grants; second, explore federal student loans; and, third, consider a responsible private education loan.
More information on FAFSA and free tools and tips about paying for college are available at SallieMae.com/FAFSA.
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