financial aid

January 1st is right around the corner, which means it is almost time to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly referred to as the FAFSA.  While the FAFSA can be intimidating, it does not have to be.  If you are prepared with the appropriate documentation right in front of you, the process can be painless.

Important Tips

  • Gather your documents.  This step will make the whole process so much easier.  Make sure you have the following handy:
    • Social Security Number(s) – student and custodial parent(s)
    • Driver’s License number – student
    • Most recent tax return(s)
    • Most recent W-2(s) and/or year-end pay stub(s)
    • Untaxed income records
    • Bank statement(s)
    • Business and investment records
    • Alien Registration Card (if not a U.S. Citizen)
  • Make sure you are working in the correct FAFSA.  If your child is enrolling in college in Fall 2016 or Spring 2017, then you should be completing the 2016-2017 FAFSA.  It can be a bit confusing as there are two versions available in January, one for the current 2015-2016 academic year and another for the upcoming academic year.  Unfortunately, we have seen many families submit the wrong year’s application.  No one wants to waste time completing an application that they will have to redo!  If your child is a senior in high school right now, then you do not need to complete the 2015-2016 FAFSA.
  • Keep track of deadlines. We recommend that you keep a spreadsheet with the deadline and specific information required by each college; you will have to check the financial aid website of each college your child is applying to for this information.  First year students may have FAFSA deadlines as early as February 1st, so submitting the FAFSA during the month of January is highly recommended.
  • Never miss a FAFSA deadline because your tax return has not yet been filed.  It is expected that families will  use estimated figures if they have not yet filed their federal tax return.  Some colleges may have a very strict deadline and/or limited funding if you apply late, so please don’t wait and risk losing out on financial aid!  If your income is relatively steady year to year, then it is okay to use your prior year tax return when completing the FAFSA.  An even better method is to use your W-2 or year-end pay stub and prior year tax return as a guide to estimate your Adjusted Gross Income, wages, and income tax.

Read all the posts in this series:

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Written by Michelle Clifton
Michelle Clifton is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Babson College and a Student Loan Officer at Rhode Island School of Design. Visit our website to learn more about Michelle Clifton.