Pay for College – Prepare for Financial Aid (FAFSA) Enrollment in December

By on December 3, 2013

It is that time of year again when college planning turns its focus on finances, scholarship and aid applications. For parents and students who are not lucky enough to have lots of extra cash or trust funds set up by grandparents (or other sources), then it is time to start to consider where the money for college is going to come from and how you are going to pay it back.

Many college-bound students choose to take advantage of federal student aid, student loans and scholarships. To receive these student loans, families will have to fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).

It pays to file early! Many types of financial aid (particularly need-based aid, including grants, loans and work-study programs) are limited to and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, the sooner your FAFSA is fully processed and released to your school’s financial aid administrators, the better your chances of receiving consideration for the maximum amount of financial aid for which you may be eligible.

No matter what your individual state or school filing deadline, the sooner you file the FAFSA after January 1st, the better! Take some time before December 31 to plan and prepare the necessary financial information to complete a FAFSA application.

10 Steps to Preparing Your FAFSA Forms for Financial Aid

1. Determine Who is Filing (Dependency Status)

Before you can fill out a FAFSA, you will need to know whose financial information will be used to determine eligibility — an independent student or the parents of a dependant student. The determination of dependency status should be done before December 31.

Dependency simply assumes the student has the support of their parents, it does not require parents to pay anything toward a student’s education; this is just a way for the federal government to assess every applicant in a consistent manner. Independent student will use their financial information on the FAFSA and dependants will include their parent’s financial information on the application.

See the Department of Education for a questionnaire to determine dependency status.

2. Gather Your Documents and Get Organized

Applicants (students and/or parent’s) will need their tax returns, W-2’s and various financial statements to apply for aid. It will be much easier if you gather all the pertinent documents together before starting.

Here is a list of document you will need to put in order before the FAFSA enrollment period opens in January:

  • Date of Birth, Social Security Numbers and ID Numbers (for students and/or parents)
  • W-2s and tax returns for the Student and/or Parent (if student is Dependent)
  • Bank statements
  • Investment statement (if student or parent owns investments, real estate or a business)
  • Citizenship records (proof of citizenship or immigration documentation)

3. Lower Your Taxable Income with Help From a Trusted Financial Advisor

Most applicants do not have the ability to alter their income much, however, as it is the primary driver of how much aid students are eligible to receive, a qualified and trusted financial advisor can help students and/or parents manage their end of year income to qualify for more aid.

4. File Tax Returns or Use Preliminary Tax Estimates before December 31

In order to complete the FAFSA fully, you need to have information from the 2013 tax return. ”But we don’t file taxes for 2013 until April 2014,” everyone asks. Filing your tax return is not required for completion of the application. Applicants may submit preliminary tax information and update their tax return information later.

This also means if you overestimate your need based on taxes the financial aid award could be altered. To receive as much aid as possible, parents and/or students are encouraged to complete their tax forms before the end of the year. And if you don’t plan to file taxes for 2013 be sure to indicate that on the application.

5. Apply for a FAFSA PIN

For the fastest processing, apply for the FAFSA online as soon as enrollment opens. You will need an electronic PIN to sign into the US Department of Education’s secured portal. Apply for a FAFSA PIN anytime before January 1 now at The PIN Website. Applicants can also reset or reactivate their old PIN from the site.

Remember this unique 4 digit PIN and use it anytime you want to begin or change your FAFSA, electronically sign your application or review your award statement, the Student Aid Report (SAR).

6. Retrieve the Relevant Federal School Codes

Each university to which a student plans to apply has a unique ID code assigned to them. These codes will be listed on the FAFSA submission to indicate which school(s) applicants want to receive their financial aid information which may be used to determine eligibility for tuition savings programs and awards.

Search the US Department of Education for school codes for each college institution.

7. Complete a FAFSA Worksheet

The US Department of Education offers a worksheet with all the pertinent information to input and questions to complete before you enter the information online. If possible, consult a financial professional to examine the family’s documents and fill out the worksheet thoroughly.  If you don’t have time to fill out the worksheet completely, at least review the information while gathering the documents you will need.

8. Fill Out the FAFSA Form Early – Applications Open January 1, 2014

Applicants who complete the FAFSA form early in the enrollment period can have an advantage on their eligibility for first-come first served aid awards, work-study programs and institutional scholarships.

Remember, you can go back and update information, so have your documents together and use your worksheet to fill out the application and submit the completed FAFSA for processing when enrollment opens January 1.

9. Don’t Forget to Sign Your FAFSA

The online FAFSA cannot be processed if it is not completed properly and authorized with an electronic signature. Double check all of the application boxes and sign the form. Failing to properly fill out or sign the FAFSA will delay the student loan process.

10. Update FAFSA Once Taxes are Filed or Changes Occur

Keep the FAFSA form up to date. Even once students have receive a SAR, it is important change the application once tax returns have been filed or drastic financial changes occur which may improve or limit your eligibility.

The Next Step in College Planning

Applying for student loans is a family affair.  This time allows parents and children to openly discuss finances and expectations throughout the college planning process. Because once the FAFSA application has been submitted, the new year will be the time for students to continue research on other scholarship and financial aid resources, preparing for advanced placement (AP) or baccalaureate (IB) tests, reviewing aid awards and acceptance letters before deciding on a college path.

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About Amanda Jensen

FSN college advice columnist - Amanda gives parents and students knowledgeable advice on college planning, tuition financing and scholarships. With up to date and accessible information covering everything from personal finances to federal government policies, she is determined to make the college experience a painless one for all party's involved. You can find Amanda on !

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