FAFSA: Make College a Reality
If you have been following Freebie Finding Mom with regularity you know I love saving money by scoring the hottest freebies, bargains and coupons. However, these are only a few of the ways I save money.
My money saving efforts served me well several years ago when I was strategizing how I would pay for college. Even as a child I took great pride in saving money in the hope that one day I could establish a bright future for myself. With strict discipline I was able to amass a fairly sizable savings for a kid, but my savings paled in comparison to the cost of college. Like many young people about to begin their higher education, I was unsure how I would bridge the financial gap.
Through our high school guidance counselor, I learned that I may be eligible for financial aid assistance to help pay for college. Financial aid can come from the U.S. federal government, the state where you live, the college you attend or a nonprofit or private organization. To apply for this financial assistance I was provided a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form to complete.
My relationship with the FAFSA form is complicated. It is one of a love-hate relationship. The FAFSA form can be frustrating to complete because it requires extensive financial information that is not readily available. To obtain the necessary financial information, you’ll need to reference tax forms and bank statements; therefore if you do not prepare beforehand by having all your financial documents accessible and well organized, the entire process will be slowed down. In theory, if you have all the financial information at your fingertips, the FAFSA form could be completed within an hour. Here are the documents you will need in order to properly complete the application:
- Your Social Security card (or at least your SSN)
- Your driver’s license
- Your W-2 forms from the previous year (or any record of money earned such as 1099s)
- Your (and if married your spouse’s) Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year
- If you have been classified as a dependent student (this goes for most individuals under the age of 24 who are not married and have no children; however the FAFSA form will ask you questions to confirm your status) you will need your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year
- Your current bank statements
- Your investment information
If you haven’t quite finished your taxes yet, you can still start the FAFSA form. Fill in all the information you can and then save it so once your taxes are done you can add that one number and be done.
I have discovered that through the years, the FAFSA application process has improved. Today you can complete and submit the form online at the FAFSA website. This expedites the process by alerting you immediately if there is an error. In addition, you receive an estimate of your EFC (expected family contribution) right away. This number (expressed as a percentage) is how much you and your family are expected to contribute towards your college expenses. However, keep in mind, that just because the number (for example) is 10% doesn’t mean that the remainder of your expenses (90%) will automatically be covered. What it means is that should 90% of the funds be available through a combination of financial aids such as federal and state government grants you are eligible to receive them. See what I mean about FAFSA being a love-hate relationship? To learn more about the financial aid process take a look at this video.
If you are preparing to fill out the FAFSA form, be cognizant of the deadlines. Each state has their own deadline you need to adhere to and many of them are before the Federal deadline of June 30th. To find the deadline for your state, go to the Federal Student Aid website, http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm. It is important to apply for financial assistance in a timely manner since it is distributed on a first come, first serve basis.
If you hesitate to fill out the FAFSA form because you think you’ll be ineligible for financial assistance, you may be making a mistake. According to Sallie Mae, 20% of undergraduates and their families didn’t complete the FAFSA application process for 2011 and half of that 20% said they didn’t fill out the form because they didn’t think they would qualify for any financial aid. FAFSA does not focus solely on one criteria rather it factors in a variety of data including income and other financial assets to determine how much money a student is expected to contribute to his or her education. For instance, for traditional students, the parent’s income is used to determine eligibility for financial assistance. Starting at age 24, students are evaluated based on their own earnings and may be eligible for additional funding. This additional money is often free money that does not need to be repaid.
For more FAFSA Tips to Help Nontraditional Students Pay for College check out this article http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2013/02/21/fafsa-tips-to-help-nontraditional-students-pay-for-college.
Don’t hesitate to fill out the FAFSA application because you think it is too difficult. You can always get assistance from your high school guidance counselor, the financial aid office of the college you are applying to, and from the FAFSA customer service department by calling 1-800-433-3243. Furthermore, don’t avoid the FAFSA form because you think you won’t qualify for any funds. The process is completely free so it never hurts to try and score some free money to help you pay for college.