Many people believe that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is something that only college students between the ages of 18 and 22 need to complete. Not so. If you are returning to college at any age and need financial assistance, you should fill out the FAFSA.
Here‘s what you need to know.
1) The FAFSA Is for All Students
While the FAFSA application asks for your age and lots of other information, everyone can apply. There’s no age cutoff.
2) The FAFSA Doesn’t Only Connect You to Government Loans and Grants
Although you fill out the FAFSA application on a government website, it is also a tool that individual colleges use to evaluate your need for financial assistance. So fill it out and check the boxes for the colleges where you want to have it forwarded. Doing so could net you funds that you weren’t expecting from the colleges themselves.
3) The FAFSA Forgives Mistakes You Might Have Made in the Past
If you or your parents failed to file tax returns in previous years, you might assume that you cannot file a FAFSA. (After all, the FAFSA asks for your tax return, right?) Not so. Technically speaking, the FAFSA asks only for your prior year’s tax return, so if you can quickly complete that, you can apply. In some cases, you can file a FAFSA by submitting a W-2 or 1099 form, or even the stub from the last paycheck you received in a year from your employer (the stub that adds up your annual earnings). The FAFSA seems like a big and intimidating application to fill out, but it is actually designed to encourage, not discourage, applications from most people. This is one time when Uncle Sam wants to help everyone.
4) You Can Predict Your FAFSA Results before You Apply
The FAFSA website now offers a free online evaluation tool called the FAFSA4caster. It’s interactive and does not require you to enter your name or other personal data. Note, however, that the FAFSA4caster predicts only your eligibility for government-provided aid. It cannot predict your chances from getting aid from individual colleges where you’re applying.
5) You Can Fill Out the FAFSA in Several Online Sessions
If you start to fill it out and discover that you need to obtain additional documentation (like bank statements or prior years’ tax returns), you can save your application right where it is, and then log back in later on to continue working on it. So don’t feel like you have to “get all my paperwork together” before you start to complete your FAFSA online. Just start and follow the process along.
6) You Need to Be Aware of FAFSA Deadlines
Okay, now we come to some rules and regulations. To be considered for federal student aid for the 2013-2014 award year, you have to complete your FAFSA between January 1, 2013 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2014.
7) The Best Way to Learn about the FAFSA Is to File It
If you do some searching online, you’ll find many articles and blog posts that offer advice about how to fill out the FAFSA. Some of that information is accurate, some is not. Our advice to you? Learn about the FAFSA by filling it out. Step by step, you’ll discover everything you need to know.
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