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Five FAFSA Filing Tips

After application submissions, who wants to fill out more forms? But with the new calendar year firmly established, taxes are on their way. Now is the perfect time to file paperwork for Federal Application for Financial Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is the form used to determine a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid and grants. Here are a few tips on filing the FAFSA:

1. File No Matter What

Even if you expect your total family income or contribution to disqualify you from federal financial aid, filing the FAFSA will not work against you. Many scholarship and grant programs use the FAFSA to determine who its recipients will be. Not filing means giving up any chance of federal financial aid. Even if parents earn a substantial income, a student may be eligible for a grant or loan. State and university programs also refer to students’ FAFSA information to determine financial aid award.

2. Earlier Submission Means More Aid

Check individual school deadlines, but try to submit FAFSA forms as early as possible no matter what the deadlines are. The earlier FAFSA forms are submitted, the better chance students have at receiving awards. Many federal aid awards – including the Pell Grant, AC Grant, SMART Grant, FSEO Grant, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and work study – are given on a first-come, first-awarded basis. Submitting late might cut students out of certain forms of aid, or shrink their overall award.

3. File Taxes Now for FAFSA Information

The first way to ensure early submission of FAFSA forms is to file taxes early. Almost 80% of FAFSA information comes from IRS tax data. If you do not yet have pay stubs or W-2 forms, estimate based on last year’s information and attach copies of last year’s forms. Once you get all the necessary forms and complete your tax return, you can file a FAFSA correction if needed.

4. Coordinate and Communicate Family Finances

Federal financial aid ability depends on the need of a family, which is determined by weighing college expenses against a family’s annual income and savings. The greater the need of the family, the larger the amount of aid for the student. A family can raise its aid ability by putting more than one student through school simultaneously. This includes parents who might be returning to school, too. A little coordination can increase aid dramatically.

Communication between families and to financial aid offices is also essential. If family income was higher than usual, inform the school’s financial aid office to explain why it was unusual and unlikely to happen again. On the other hand, if a family member had a layoff, salary cut, or any medical expenses, families can appeal to have their financial aid package adjusted. Send  documentation of these circumstances with a notification to the school.

5. Remember to sign all required lines

Last but not least, make sure all required signatures are complete! Missing a signature can deny a complete FAFSA. This is a simple mistake, but commonly cited in college financial aid offices.

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