If you have a college-age student, the hair-pulling process of completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the ticket to scholarships, grants and student loans—will soon be upon you. Every college student should file the FAFSA. Your student could be eligible to receive merit scholarship dollars no matter how much you earn or have in savings.
Here are time-tested tips to help you through the process:
- Make sure you have all the documents you’ll need. These include, for student and parents: Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, W-2 forms, federal income tax returns for the previous year and current bank and asset statements.
- Do it online (www.fafsa.gov). The online FAFSA calculates and enters total amounts into the correct fields for you.
- Double check your answers. Errors and omissions slow things down, which can make you miss out on some, or possibly all, of your financial aid.
- Apply by Jan. 1. Most federal aid, particularly grants and scholarships, is awarded on a first-come, first- served basis. Filing early helps ensure that your child receives the maximum amount of aid he or she is eligible for.
- Don’t delay filing your tax return. File an estimated FAFSA in January using your 2012 federal tax return. Then complete your 2013 return ASAP to submit your final FAFSA in February. Make sure your tax preparer knows you must file the FAFSA no later than February.
- Minimize your cash on hand. FAFSA includes questions about the student’s and parents’ assets, including the current balance of savings and checking accounts and cash. While tucking cash “under the mattress” is fraudulent, there are several financial vehicles which legally shelter cash from FAFSA calculations. Also, if you’re preparing for a large purchase, such as a new car, make it prior to filing rather than after.
Luanne Lee, CCPRS, is a certified college planning relief specialist and owner of Your College Planning Coach, based in Manassas. Learn more at www.yourcollegeplanningcoach.com or call 703-928-9036.