The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA, provides the foundation for the college financial aid process. Colleges and many scholarship foundations use the report generated by FAFSA to evaluate an applicant’s financial need.
Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st each year. The FAFSA application is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Both students and parents will need PINs, Personal Identification Numbers that serve as your electronic signature. Get your PIN before completing the FAFSA and you can apply for a PIN at www.pin.ed.gov.
To complete the FAFSA, you will need copies of the student and parent tax returns for the preceding year, as well as social security numbers and other demographic information. You should also have available a summary of assets like bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. for both the parent and student.
In two to three weeks you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR reports your expected family contribution (EFC) – the amount you and your family will be expected to contribute based on your personal financial situation, for your first year of study. Check the SAR for accuracy and make any needed corrections. Colleges you’ve applied to receive a copy of your SAR at your request. The SAR is used by the college financial aid office to build a financial aid package for each accepted student.
With the high cost of private colleges, many families will qualify for some type of financial aid assistance. Don’t just assume you won’t qualify for financial aid due to your income and assets. By completing the FAFSA you become eligible for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, formally known as Stafford Loans. The federal government will use information you provide on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for Pell Grant, Perkins Loans, Work Study and other federal financial aid programs. Remember a new FAFSA must be filed each year and the students must re-qualify annually for college financial aid. Family financial circumstances often change and eligibility for aid could increase dramatically whenever another sibling begins college.
Jim Femia is a Certified College Planning Specialist(CCPS) with the National Institute of Certified College Planners (NICCP).