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Just the (FAFSA) Facts, Ma’am

Tips and Tricks for Filing This Oft-Dreaded Application

March 9, 2012

Just the (FAFSA) Facts, Ma’am

by Radha Jhatakia

For those of us who cannot afford large out-of-pocket expenses for college, financial aid is our only option. Many, if not all, universities require their students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – aka the FAFSA – which uses your family’s finances and taxes in order to best determine how much aid you get. It can be confusing but it is definitely worth your time to file the application.

Depending on the state of the school you attend and live in, the FAFSA has different deadlines. States offer different grants and scholarships as long as you qualify and apply by the stated deadline and private schools also have different deadlines for private funding which can be found on their websites. The dates for states can all be found on the print out form on the FAFSA’s website. Remember to use this official government website – other sites charge fees.

The FAFSA requires you to have a federal PIN number. To apply for one, request one from the FAFSA website. (Make sure to do this even if you don’t have your tax returns, as the PIN number sometimes takes some time to receive.) Also, a new procedure that the FAFSA has is the IRS data retrieval tool, which takes the tax information directly from the IRS database and filters it into the FAFSA. This option not only makes life easier for those filing the FAFSA but it helps college financial aid offices, as they won’t require you to turn in additional documents to verify if the information is correct.

Always try to have yours and your parents' tax returns completed as soon as possible to have your FAFSA completed on time; however, since required documents like W-2s and other federal papers often aren’t available when you need them, file the FAFSA and select the option “Will File” rather than “Already Completed” for the question asking if you have already filed the tax returns. Use the tax information from the previous year so that you can have it completed by the deadline and once your tax returns are complete, go back into the FAFSA and use the “Make Corrections” option to update the information.

Happy filing, everyone!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.

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The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

January 3, 2013

The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Scholarships.com Staff

Though it’s a day off from school and work, New Year’s Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year’s resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2011 for the 2012-2013 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
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Changes to 529 Savings Plans

February 5, 2013

Changes to 529 Savings Plans

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you’re going to pay for your college education can be intimidating. No one wants to pay off student loans for the rest of their lives, full-tuition scholarships are rare and federal student aid seldom covers all college costs but if you’re lucky enough to have a parent or relative willing to help curb the financial strains, it’s important to note that college savings plans are becoming increasingly flexible and affordable. Here are some of the changes to the 529 savings plans for 2013:

  • Increase gift tax exemptions: Grandparents can gift $14,000 annually before they’re charged a gift tax. Since five years of the exempted amount can be gifted at one time, that’s a five-year donation of $70,000 per grandchild while a married couple could potentially gift $140,000, provided they don’t give additional funds to the same grandchild in the five-year span.
  • Expanded qualified expenses: Last year, families couldn’t use 529 plan funds for laptops, iPads, internet service and software but the IRS is going high tech and realizes these are necessary items for higher education. Parents of a student who receives a full or partial scholarship can now use the funds to enhance their child’s educational experience.
  • Declining plan prices: Competitive bidding among plan management companies to run 529 plans on behalf of states is contributing to the trend of downward pricing. (For more information about 529 plans, click here.)
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FAFSA to Recognize Same-Sex and Unmarried Parents by 2014

May 7, 2013

FAFSA to Recognize Same-Sex and Unmarried Parents by 2014

by Suada Kolovic

The Department of Education has recently announced that the FAFSA will soon undergo a few changes to accommodate students with same-sex or unmarried parents who cohabit in order to more accurately ascertain an applicant’s financial situation.

The forms, which will be introduced for the 2014-15 school year, will allow students to designate their parents as “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)” rather than just mother and father. “All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."

The department has said that the changes will not impact a vast majority of applicants but it could potentially (read: very likely) translate into reduced aid for students with same-sex or unmarried parents. Why? Those parents who do not benefit from filing joint tax returns will likely disqualify their children from financial aid if it’s found that jointly they are above the income threshold. So while the changes are considered progressive, they’re just slightly off the mark when it comes to helping “unique family dynamics.”

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