Filling out a FAFSA form on the web is really a no-brainer. Whether you expect to pay for college up front through work or parents or you need every available penny you can get in financial aid, this form is a must for anyone going to any kind of college. It is a free application to fill out and not only helps you get federal money, it also gives your college an idea of how much financial aid you need thus allowing the college to give you potentially more ‘free money’ in the form of scholarships and grants, and more offerings of various loans.
Also without filing for FAFSA most schools won’t complete or give you any financial aid and even if a school will, you won’t be eligible or know if you are eligible for any federal loans or grants.
Filling it out is relatively easy but you’ll need a good amount of information to do so. You’ll need your Income Tax forms, your work W-2 forms, your ID, and a few other key items. These other key items include numbers such as the amount of money in your current bank accounts, the amount of money you made in the previous year and so forth. You’ll also need to list all potential schools, your housing choice (off campus, on campus, at home), employment information if applicable, any drug convictions, your major, your year and student status (graduate, undergrad,part-time, full time).
If you are under 24 and considered a dependent under your parents or legal guardians you’ll also need to have them around to provide their tax information including their earnings in the previous year. Once you are listed as independent, you only will be required to list your own earnings and tax information; otherwise both your parents’ income and yours will count towards the most crucial number of all.
This crucial number is the Expected Family Contribution (also called Estimated Family Contribution). This number takes into account all earnings of a dependent and their parents (or if independent according to taxes just the student’s earnings), spouse earnings if your married, all savings and bank account holdings, and even owned assets such as boats, cars, and homes.
Apparently the government believes often times that these items should be counted as a way to pay for college education. With this whole batch of numbers collected, it is compared to the school’s average cost and from there a number of what the family ‘should’ pay for is calculated.
This EFC number helps the college determine how much federal money you may be eligible for and also helps them decide if some of their own money should be contributed to the cost of the education.
In most cases at least some money is given and for graduate students the importance of this form is even more pronounced as graduate students are eligible for far more federal loans (cheaper then private loans) and often earn far less as a ‘household’ then a dependent student.
You’ll also create a unique pin and user information to log back in to update information as needed, and always for each new school year. After the first time this information and all of your personal information is saved so there is less paperwork to do in future years. Your school’s financial aid office will take it from there and instruct you on what forms you’ll need to fill out next and request information as needed.
Often times people overlook the FAFSA as just a small part of getting money for school, but it is the foundation of getting not only free grant money from the government and school but also helping the school decide if your eligible for their grant money and helping secure private loans. It is free to fill out and can save you a lot of money in both the short term and long run.