Written by: Sarah Miller for Student Choice
Do you have a “Getting Ready for College” checklist?
Which items do you have left to cross off? Filling out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) should be at the top of that list! No one likes filling out forms and applications, but everyone likes FREE MONEY and that’s what the FAFSA can get you. Completing the FAFSA is the easiest way to get access to free and cheap money for college. It may look intimidating, but if you’re armed with the right information and take it one step at a time, it isn’t difficult to complete.
Start by gathering these items:
- Social Security Numbers and citizenship information for you and your parents
- If you’re not a U.S. citizen, your Alien Registration Number or permanent resident card
- Your W-2s and tax returns*
- Parents’ W-2s and tax returns
- Bank statements
- Business financial statements (if you or your parents own a business)
- Untaxed income records for the previous year such as:
- Social Security income
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
- Veterans benefits.
*Good news – if you’ve already filed your federal tax return you may be able to transfer your information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on the FAFSA website.
Once you’ve collected all of these items, go to www.pin.ed.gov to set up a Federal Student Aid PIN. The PIN serves as your electronic signature and allows you to access your personal federal aid records. You’ll use this number every year to file your FAFSA (yes, you have to complete it every year!).
This step is optional but may be helpful if you’d like a “practice round” before you actually file your FAFSA. Visit www.studentaid.ed.gov/worksheet to fill out a FAFSA worksheet before filing the real deal. Just scroll down to the FAFSA Information Section – and while you’re at it, check out some of the other resources available on the page.
Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and get started (make sure you notice the “.ed.gov” in the address – there are many sites that look similar and will ask you to pay for this free application). There are help screens and live help from representatives available as you start entering information, so don’t be afraid to ask! The site will also skip questions that don’t apply to you and will notify you if you provide information that doesn’t seem quite right.
Once you’ve completed and submitted your FAFSA, watch your email for a response and possible further questions or instructions. (Which brings up another tip – be sure to sign up with an email address you check regularly!)
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, remember you don’t have to do this alone. Look into FREE FAFSA workshops offered by schools and community organizations. Ask your high school counselor about opportunities in your area, or check out College Sunday events for events near you. Their next event is coming up on February 9, 2014 – register now!
Don’t forget your local credit union – they can help through a good chunk of the process and especially gathering information and any financial questions you may have. Want to find a credit union in your area, use our CU Select tool for more information.
Remember, FAFSA deadlines vary by state and college, so be sure to file before those deadlines sneak up on you. A little time spent now can save you big money spent down the road!