by Jodi Okun,
You have probably heard about it for what must seem like forever by now, but the FAFSA is coming online October 1, 2019. Anyone who will be attending college in the fall of 2020 who would like to be considered for financial aid will probably be required to file the FAFSA as the first step in that process. Please, though, read your college’s website carefully to determine if it has any other requirements specific to their needs. Some may also require a CSS PROFILE or have a supplemental financial aid form on their website.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the pathway to determining your eligibility for federal student aid, state student aid, institutional support and even some scholarships. If you think you will qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program, or will need to borrow money through Federal Student Loans, the FAFSA is a must. The main thing you need to remember is to apply as soon as possible, as some programs only have limited funding available. Here are the key completion steps you will need to keep in mind for the 2020-21 FAFSA:
• FSA ID: Each student and one parent of each dependent student will need an FSA ID, or username and password to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites and complete the FAFSA. You do not have to wait until October to obtain this number – apply for your FSA ID now.
• Social Security Number: If you do not yet have a Social Security number, get one now from the Social Security Administration. If you are not a U.S. citizen, but meet Federal Student Aid’s basic eligibility requirements, you will need an Alien Registration number.
• Driver’s License: This may be needed for identification purposes, but don’t worry if you don’t have one yet.
• Tax Returns: You will need to use tax information from your 2018 federal income tax return, even though your financial situation may have changed in 2019. This information has probably been submitted, and you should be able to access it using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you requested a filing extension, you will be able to use estimates but will need to file a FAFSA revision once your final return is submitted.
• Untaxed Income: Not all income is reported on your tax return, so you may be asked to provide details on untaxed income such as child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits.
• Assets: You will be asked to provide information on available assets such as savings and checking account balances, as well as the value of investments such as stocks and bonds and real estate (but not the home in which your family lives). You will report the current amounts as of the date you sign the FAFSA form.
• Prospective Colleges: Make a list of colleges you may apply to, so your FAFSA information can be forwarded to them, even if you have not yet applied or been accepted. You can list up to 10 schools at a time on your FAFSA form, but you can come back and add schools later. Be aware that your state may require you to list colleges in a certain order on your FAFSA.
As soon as you are ready to apply after October 1, complete the FAFSA form online using the fafsa.gov website or the myStudentAid mobile app. You can also obtain a printed version of the FAFSA and mail it in. If using the online version, enable your browser to allow pop-ups, as there are several prompts and helpful information that appear along the way. The app, which is available from both the Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android), allows you to fill out the FAFSA form safely and securely from mobile devices. You cannot, however, file a correction through the app if you make a mistake or need to amend your form after submitting it.
Always make sure the name you use on your FAFSA exactly matches the one on file with Social Security, check your form for any errors before submitting, and be sure to sign your FAFSA.