If you’re like many parents, the thought of completing the FAFSA fills you with dread. You may wonder if you have everything you need, or if you’re going to make a costly mistake.
Unfortunately, these fears can lead to you to procrastinate, which is the absolute worst thing you can do. Instead, review this complete guide for all the tips and tricks you need to turn in the perfect FAFSA.
Documents You Need
The FAFSA requires a lot of specific information, so gathering the documents you will need is the first step. Having a checklist for documentation the FAFSA requires makes it much easier to get what you need.
All students should have the following information available:
- Social Security Number (or Alien Registration Number if not a U.S. citizen)
- Student’s federal income tax returns from the appropriate year
- Student’s W-2, records of untaxed income, and other earning statements from the appropriate year
- Student’s bank statements from checking and savings accounts
- Student’s non-retirement investment account statements, which include after-tax brokerage, 529s, Coverdell ESAs, CDs, and money market
- Students records of income gifts and other non-taxed income
- Student’s records for investment real estate
- An FSA ID to sign electronically
In addition, dependent students will need:
- Parent’s federal income tax returns from the appropriate year
- Parent’s W-2, records of untaxed income, and other earning statements from the appropriate year
- Parent’s bank statements from checking and savings accounts
- Parent’s non-retirement investment account statements, which include after-tax brokerage, 529s, Coverdell ESAs, CDs, and money market
- Parent’s records for investment real estate, which does not include the personal home
- Parent FSA ID
Having these documents ready to go before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA will save you time and hassle.
Know What Year’s Tax and Asset Forms to Use
Filing the FAFSA correctly requires you to use the appropriate year’s financial information. Fortunately, this is simple when you use the following table.
School Attendance Window FAFSA Form Date FAFSA is Available Income and Tax Year Assets and Liabilities Born Before for Independent Status
July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020 2019-2020 October 1, 2018 2017 As of FAFSA filing date January 1, 1996
July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021 2020-2021 October 1, 2019 2018 As of FAFSA filing date January 1, 1997
July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022 2021-2022 October 1, 2020 2019 As of FAFSA filing date January 1, 1998
Know Your State’s and School’s Specific Deadlines
Where you live will make a significant difference in how soon you need to turn in the FAFSA. There are three deadlines to be aware of: Federal, state, and school. They may all be different, so be sure to do your research!
Most states want students to complete the FAFSA as soon after October 1st as possible. State deadlines range widely – California requires the FAFSA by early March while Iowa students have until July 1. To find out your state’s specific deadlines, check out the FAFSA site. These deadlines are firm no matter what portion of the year your student plans to attend school.
Students who do not have FAFSAs turned in on time risk missing out on much of the available aid. If attendance or schools change, you can work out the differences later. Don’t procrastinate – start the FAFSA right away!
Get Help from the Source – The Government
The government created the FAFSA, and their help lines are the best qualified to help you work through any questions or challenges you face.
Here are government resources to rely on:
- Federal Student Aid Information Center: 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
- Online chat help from the FAFSA site
Remember that these resources will have more delays the closer you get to the deadlines. So be sure to start early and get your questions answered when there aren’t thousands of other parents doing the same thing!
Get Online Help from Reputable Sources
We’re happy to be one of the premier reliable information sources about college funding. But we aren’t alone. There are other sites who have great information that can be a great benefit to you.
Be careful, though. There are scam sites that take advantage of desperate and time-strapped parents as well. Stay away from anyone making claims that are too good to be true. And of course, never give out your personal information.
Instead, take a look at these resources:
These sites, along with Road2College, will give you timely and relevant information that will help you as you pursue college funding.
Understand the Pros and Cons of Paid FAFSA Help
Time strapped? Don’t want to deal with the paperwork? We get it. There are services available that can help you fill out the FAFSA for a fee. Like all paid services, there are pros and cons to consider.
Reasons Not to Pay
Keep in mind that the FAFSA form is free, and any money you spend to have it filled out takes away from money that could be used for college or other bills. There are a lot of free resources that can help you. But there’s also nothing wrong with deciding to pay for help with the process. Filing your tax returns are free too, but many people purchase software, use tax processing services, and hire accountants.
Why You’d Hire Help
If you’re really strapped for time, it may be worth it to you to pay someone to do the paperwork. This is especially true if paying for the help allows you to turn in the FAFSA much more quickly than doing it yourself.
If you’re using a college aid planner or financial professional, they may be a good resource for completing the FAFSA. You can also find reputable help through the government’s FAFSA website or college financial aid office.
Think of it like paying for tax preparation. Don’t pay a fee for a website where you still have to enter all the relevant information – it’s the same as doing it yourself. Remember that you’re paying someone to fill out paperwork with your personal information, so choose someone you trust and don’t overpay.
Involve Your Student
Having your student be a part of the FAFSA process can be very educational and eye-opening for them. The sooner you can expose a young person to the financial realities of education, the better. If they are aware of how much goes into it, they may take their schooling more seriously.
Being aware of how financial paperwork is handled and what is required will help your child prepare for financial decisions during and after college.
Protect Your Information
When filling out the FAFSA, you’re sharing a lot of personal financial details. If these fall into the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous. Some systems that parents use to automatically transfer tax information to the FAFSA have been hacked in the past. Changes have been made to make these systems more secure, but they no longer allow you to review or change information.
To ensure that everything is correct on the FAFSA, the best approach is to use your copies of W2s and tax returns yourself. It’s a bit more time intensive, but it’s more secure and accurate.
Have Backup Information
About 30% of FAFSA filers are selected to verify their information. To make sure you’re ready if it happens to you, order a tax transcript for every year of taxes you use in the FAFSA application. The more quickly you complete the verification, the more quickly aid will be awarded.
You can get transcripts on IRS.gov, by calling the IRS at 800-908-9946 and using the automated prompts, or with the IRS2Go mobile phone app. You can also mail in IRS Form 4506T-EZ to request transcripts by mail or fax.
Consider Attending a FAFSA Webinar
A webinar is another way to discover valuable information about the FAFSA. Several organizations do informational webinars throughout the year. You can find these by searching for “FAFSA Webinars.”
- The first webinar will help get you prepared to fill out the FAFSA by making sure you have all the necessary paperwork, review how to obtain your FAFSA ID and answer questions related to divorce, untaxed income, and other common situations that may trip people up.
- The second webinar will work through the actual form and will allow you to submit question to be answered to help resolve your specific issues.
We want you to be financially prepared for the upcoming school year. Don’t procrastinate!
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