Jan 2, 2010

Don't Wait: NOW Is the Time To Complete Your FAFSA

Happy New Year! In case you missed the memo, the online FAFSA application site went “live” just about the same time as the Times Square crystal ball hit bottom at midnight on January 1st.

Frankly, National Fruitcake Toss Day probably receives more attention than the annual start to the federal financial aid season, which runs from January 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010. Nevertheless, it’s time to sharpen the pencils, put fresh batteries in the calculator, dig out tax returns, and organize bank records to tackle the single most important form necessary to make yourself eligible for literally millions in federal grants, loans, and work-study arrangements.

When is the best time to file the FAFSA? NOW! Considering the number of families competing for financial aid this year, you should get your application in as soon as possible. The earlier the FAFSA is received, the earlier it will get processed, and the better positioned you will be for grants and scholarships with limited pools of money. And, much of this money is first come, first served. Get the picture?

Start by organizing your documents. You will need your Social Security number, driver’s license, income tax return, bank statements, and investment records. Next, if you haven’t done so already, apply for a PIN number. Both a parent and the student will need PIN’s to sign the FAFSA electronically. The application is easy and there’s no longer any waiting—a PIN can be generated on the spot.

Next, print a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. This handy document lays out all the questions in the order in which they are asked, so you can draft answers before actually going online. Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t filed taxes yet. Use last year’s returns and plan to amend later. Corrections to the original FAFSA may be submitted up until September 21, 2010.

Note that you do not have to file electronically. Paper applications are available. But in the interest of saving time, it is highly recommended that you complete the web-based form. If you have no internet access at home, libraries have online connections, and schools usually will make accommodations to support online FAFSA filing. Ask your guidance counselor or college/career center specialist for help if necessary. And always keep in mind that this is the FREE Application for Federal Student Assistance. Don’t pay for PIN’s or application forms. If in doubt, ask. The FAFSA Web Consumer Service stands ready to respond online or by phone.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of early FAFSA filing. Money seldom is an unlimited resource, and colleges are experiencing financial problems just like the rest of us. They have deadlines and bureaucratic procedures to follow in the preparation of aid packages. As my mother-in-law says, “WIGIG”—when it’s gone, it’s gone. So use the quiet time you have available this long weekend to get FAFSA complete. Why wait?

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