Applying for financial aid can seem like a never-ending series of forms to fill out and hurdles to clear. It all begins with the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This one application sets the stage for your entire loan processes. The more you know ahead of time, the better prepared you’ll be, and the more likely your financial aid package will arrive on time. Here are some helpful tips toward a stress-free application process.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of applicants discover too late in the process that they didn’t allow sufficient time for things like incomplete applications, an administrative need for additional information or other unexpected complications. The official FAFSA deadline is June 30th, but some colleges have their own deadlines. You can find out what the deadline is for your state and school here. Also, some states award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it’s doubly important in those cases to file early.
Using the online form streamlines your application process and allows you to make any amendments to your application more quickly and readily. Also, when using the online FAFSA application, you can take advantage of other electronic benefits, like the IRS data retrieval tool.
IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)
This online tool can significantly speed up the application process. You can use it to transfer tax information to the FAFSA during initial application, or to update it later on. It’s much easier updating your application digitally, and it avoids the potential paperwork logjam that can arise when working from hard copies.
FAFSA Question #103
Believe it or not, some colleges will offer additional financial aid to students who list the school as second or third on the student’s list of preferred schools. In fact, colleges have been known to use this form to help determine whether to admit an applicant and how much aid they should award them.
State Your Case
Not everything that may be relevant to your financial situation can be covered on the FAFSA. Although there are 103 questions, there isn’t anywhere you can explain special circumstances that may have impacted your financial needs. If you have extenuating circumstances that can affect your eligibility for assistance, share that information and attach it to your application.
Shift Your Assets
For the purpose of establishing how much aid the student qualifies for, certain family assets are assessed while others are ignored. Prior to filing for aid, you should have your assets as protected as possible. Retirement accounts, for instance, aren’t counted, and would be a good place to move some of your savings account funds, which are assessed.
While filling out the FASFA can be a daunting task, knowing what to add and how to complete it will help boost your chances of receiving more aid.
For more information on student loans, be sure to check out our Student Loans section. It’s a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about college. . .and debt.