What to Know About Applying for College Financial Aid

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Heading to college or grad school next school year for the first time or as a returning student? Don’t forget to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for academic year 2019-20.

Completing it is the most important step to qualify for some of the $150 billion available in financial aid including grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

What’s more, completing the FAFSA sooner rather than later is critical because some aid is awarded first come, first served. In addition, schools use it to assemble financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and it’s required for many scholarship applications.

To help your family prepare to complete the FAFSA, check out these tips:

• Be first in line. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds. The earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances of being in line for that aid. Additionally, those who complete and submit the FAFSA early will receive their Student Aid Report sooner and may receive financial aid award letters from schools earlier.

• Bring the basics. Before beginning the application, expedite the process by getting prepared. Both parents and students should create a username and password — a Federal Student Aid ID — and gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, tax returns and W-2 forms.

• Get connected. New this year, students and families can complete the FAFSA using the myStudentAid app on any Android or Apple device. Regardless of what device you use, remember that it’s always free, so watch out for sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Students can reduce the risk of identity theft by keeping their Federal Student Aid ID confidential, and reporting any suspected fraudulent account activity immediately.

• Sync up. Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can expedite the process by automatically syncing and populating tax return information into the FAFSA. Note: the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is currently only available for those completing the FAFSA at fafsa.gov.

• File every year. Complete the FAFSA as a high school senior, and every year in college and graduate school. Filing a new FAFSA each year, starting in fall, is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and the amount of aid can vary year-over-year.