File FAFSA Immediately for Best Chance at Getting Money for College

File FAFSA Immediately for Best Chance at Getting Money for College
Susan Dutca-Lovell

The official 2019-2020 college financial aid season began yesterday, October 1st, so it is critical that you file your Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) ASAP! Whether you are headed to college for the first time next fall, or you plan on attending college next year, you will want to complete your FAFSA as soon as possible, as many states and colleges award financial aid on a first come, first served basis.

The FAFSA is free and, in order to apply for financial aid, you must meet the basic eligibility requirements: you must demonstrate financial need, be a U.S. citizen or "eligible noncitizen", and be enrolled or enrolling in an eligible degree or certificate program. Before filing the FAFSA, you will need the following documentation:

  1. Personal identification data such as your social security number, driver's license, a state ID, etc. for the parent(s) as well as for the dependent student. Independent students do not need to provide parental information.
  2. Last year's tax return and W-2 - much of this information can be automatically populated while completing the FAFSA online using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT).
  3. Account statements for investment assets and bank statements such as stocks, bonds, business assets, and so forth.
  4. Records of untaxed income, such as child support and interest income.
  5. A list of colleges to which you intend to apply or the one you are currently attending. Even if you are not sure where you will be attending, you must provide at least one college to have your FAFSA processed. You do not have to apply to or attend the school(s), and you may add other schools later on. If you are not sure as to which school to select, we recommend you pick an in-state college.

When filling out your FAFSA, first apply for a FSA ID if you do not have one. Each parent and child will have their own separate ID. Begin the application process at Indicate whether you are a new user or returning user and follow the prompts. If you prefer to complete a paper application rather than online, you are able to do so; though it may take longer to process.

For the first time ever, students and their families can download a mobile app to complete the FAFSA. The app, myStudentAid, is available at both the Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android) and allows you work on your FAFSA application and to manage your FSA ID from anywhere, anytime.

Once you have submitted your application for review, a determination is made in 7 to 10 business days. During this time, you and any schools you may have chosen will receive a SAR (Student Aid Report) with all the data entered on the FAFSA. You must review your SAR and make any corrections necessary, immediately. The SAR also lists your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). The cost of attendance minus your EFC equals your financial need, which will be used by the school(s) to determine the amount of financial aid for which you qualify. For a step-by-step guide on how to fill out the FAFSA form, go here.

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