10 Tips to Get College Cash
Beat financial aid deadlines now. Follow this 10-step guide to help you fill out the federal application. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the first stop to qualifying for federal education loans, which typically have lower interest rates than private loans. Some colleges and universities use the FAFSA as the basis for awarding non-federal student aid, including state-level grants, scholarships and college-level work/study programs.
Even if you don’t think that you’ll qualify for need-based financial aid, college-planning experts say it’s important to fill out the application — and early. Use these tips to get started. Don’t get caught without much needed college cash.
1. Apply Early
Every year that your student is in college, complete the form as soon as possible after Jan. 1. Deadlines for many state-based aid programs, which require a completed FAFSA, can be as early as February or March.
2. Get an Early Start on Your Taxes
To complete the FAFSA form before April 15, you’ll need to complete your tax returns early or estimate your income from the previous year. If you’re using estimated income figures, you’ll have a chance to amend your FAFSA form once you actually file your taxes.
3. Be Prepared
Gather all the data you need before you sit down to fill out the form. This includes:
- Social Security numbers of students and parents (or parent with primary custody of the student)
- Driver’s license numbers
You may be wary that the FAFSA requires so much personal information, but all data is transmitted through a secure, encrypted Internet connection. In addition, the FAFSA website has helpful tips for maintaining your online privacy.
4. Complete the Form Online
According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, about 99% of all applicants complete the form online. The automated, online form checks for errors and alerts you to possible areas that need additional attention.
5. Use Your Full Name
The names of parents and students listed on the form must match each person’s name as it appears on their Social Security cards. Avoid nicknames or shortened versions of names.
6. Review the Form for Accuracy
Look for transposed digits or extra zeros, especially in the income sections of the form. Your income plays the biggest role in financial aid calculations — much more so than assets or the value of your house — so be sure to report your income correctly.
7. Document Unusual Financial Circumstances
If you’ve been laid off from a job or have unusual financial circumstances — such as large, unreimbursed medical bills — write a letter to the school explaining the circumstances and request a professional judgment review, also known as a special circumstances review. In addition, provide the school with documentation of your situation.
8. Avoid Listing Assets Twice
When completing the form, you’ll need to list your assets and your student’s. If you have an education savings account in the name of the parent (which is common for many 529 plans), be sure to list those account assets as belonging to you alone. Families sometimes inadvertently list assets from an education savings account under both the parent’s and student’s names.
9. Decide Which Parent Will Fill Out the Form
If you’re divorced, the FAFSA asks only for the earnings of the custodial parent, or the parent the student has lived with most of the past 12 months. To maximize financial aid eligibility, consider giving primary custody of the student to the lower-earning parent in the year before you plan to send him or her to college. Even if both parents expect to contribute to the student’s tuition, only the lower-earning parent should have income and assets listed on the FAFSA.
10. Complete the Form Every Year
Even if you didn’t qualify for need-based aid in the previous year, it’s a good idea to complete the form every year that you have a child in college. If you have a second child starting college, that can often change the aid calculations in your favor — so don’t assume that just because your first child didn’t get aid, you shouldn’t continue to apply.
This content is provided courtesy of USAA.