February kicks of Financial Aid Awareness month, a time when current and soon to be college students must follow through on the time honored tradition of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid aka The FAFSA. The FAFSA is the first stop for students looking for financial assistance to help cover the high costs of college.
Filing the new 2013- 2014 FAFSA is critical for students looking to start college in the Fall of 2013, as financial aid awarded is a major factor for students considering which college to attend.
It is equally critical for continuing students to complete their FAFSA renewals in a timely manner to retain financial aid eligibility for next academic year as well.
Quick FAFSA filing tips:
1. Know your deadline so you can file ahead of schedule: Each school and every state may have a different date as to when a FAFSA must be filed in order to qualify for maximum funding eligibility review. Common dates can range from March 1 into April, but some schools require the FAFSA to be filed as early as February 15. Make sure to file the FAFSA early so there is no question of timely delivery.
2. No tax return, no problem!: The FAFSA requires parent tax and asset information along with the student if they also file
a tax return. However, at this time of year many families have not yet completed their taxes. This does not jibe well with early deadlines for the FAFSA, however this is easily manageable. If your 2012 tax return is not yet ready, go ahead and file the new FAFSA using estimated numbers. If 2012 earnings are about the same as what they were in 2011, you may be able to use your old 2011 taxes to guide estimations. Once the actual tax returns are filed, you can log back onto the online FAFSA to make corrections and adjustments.
3. Remember your PIN to renew your FAFSA every year: No, we are not talking about a new pin on Pinterest (BTW, check out our Pinterest page!) We are talking about the Personal Identification Number (PIN) necessary to electronically sign your FAFSA. When first completing a FAFSA both the student and parent(s) must authenticate their identity and get registered at http://www.pin.ed.gov/PINWebApp/pinindex.jsp . The PIN is provided after a three step process and can be used to electronically sign each FAFSA every year, so make sure to remember the four digit number to easily renew the application. If you decline the PIN and manually sign the FAFSA, it can take much longer to process.
4. Master the fundamentals, data input them correctly: Make sure your personal information is completely accurate, and re-check it with a different set of eyes. (Parents and children need to work together to help each other) You would be shocked if you knew how many FAFSAs were filed using incorrect birth dates and social security numbers. When this happens, it creates great confusion in the processing of your application.
5. Follow up with your school to confirm the FAFSA was received: When you complete the application, a confirmation number and data release number will be provided as proof of completion. The page looks like this:
If for some reason the school does not receive the FAFSA information due to an electronic transfer error, show the school your confirmation number and data release number (DRN) to prove your FAFSA was filed in a timely manner. A common mistake that families make is to file a second FAFSA at a later date after a school informs them that no FAFSA information was received. If the school processed the second FAFSA with a date of completion after the deadline for maximum funding eligibility, then it may cause a reduction in financial aid eligibility. Make sure your school processes the FAFSA that was filed before the deadline to maintain maximum funding.
6. Be prepared for verification: Anywhere from a quarter to half of college students get selected for a process called verification. This is when the school must check the actual tax returns compared to the data originally submitted on the FAFSA, and to correct any discrepancies so that the information is accurate. Be advised that financial aid eligibility may change based on the results of verification review. If the information originally provided on the FAFSA is quite different from the information on the actual tax return, this may cause grants to be canceled. If the request to submit verification documents is ignored, all financial aid will be canceled. The best way to be prepared for this process is to keep copies of all the required forms in a neat folder next to your home computer, so in the event a verification request it can be responded to quickly and efficiently. Some schools will penalize a student for taking too long to submit verification documentation, even if it turns out all the data was accurate. Forms that may be requested in the verification process include but are not limited to:
- Social Security Card
- Driver’s License
- Federal income tax returns: 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ
- Foreign tax returns
- Untaxed income records
- Current bank statements
- Current investment mortgage information (Rental property)
- Business and/or farm records
- Records of stocks, bonds and other investments
- Alien registration or permanent resident card (if not a U.S. citizen)
Tags: academic year, awareness month, college students, earnings, fafsa, federal student aid, financial aid awareness, financial aid eligibility, financial assistance, free application for federal student aid, graduate student, march 1, tax return, tax returns, time honored tradition, timely delivery, timely manner, Undergraduate freshman/sophomore, Undergraduate junior/senior