Time-Saving Tips to Help Students Secure Financial Aid for College
By Kris Alban | Submitted On November 07, 2014
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Expert Author Kris Alban
Very few things freak students out as much as financial aid woes. Some students just give up, thinking that they can't possibly qualify for grants and scholarships. They quickly turn to private lenders for student loans, not realizing the consequences of doing so.
Some students do persevere and submit their Free Application for Federal Student AID (better known as the FAFSA), but misconceptions and misunderstandings often lead to mistakes in the application. These mistakes are not cheap; they could easily lower the grant amount a student receives by thousands.
Here are some tips to help you file your FAFSA and get the best possible financial aid for your education.
Tips on Filing Your FAFSA
GATHER THE DOCUMENTS YOU'LL NEED BEFORE YOU START
The form requires a lot of information, ranging from your Social Security number to your parents' income information. It's better to have all the documents at hand before you start filling out the form. You don't want to be running around looking up documents when you're halfway through entering details. Some documents you'll likely need for the FAFSA form are your Social Security card, driver's license, bank statements, income tax returns, and other scholarship or financial aid documentation.
USE THE IRS DATA RETRIEVAL TOOL
Once your form is submitted, it will be verified and any errors found could negatively affect the total aid you'll receive. As such, it's important to make sure that all your information is correct before you submit anything. The online FAFSA form will allow you to use the IRS Data Retrieval tool that will automatically populate the relevant fields with data from your latest tax returns. This eliminates the possibility of errors and improves your chances of getting a better financial aid package.
USE THE ONLINE FORM FOR SUBMISSION
As mentioned earlier, the online form has the IRS Data Retrieval tool to minimize the potential for mistakes. Another benefit of the online form is that it has built-in edit checks that will make sure you catch errors more easily. If you print out the form and try to fill that out instead, you'll have to proofread more thoroughly.
PIN, SIGN, AND DATE
You'll have to sign the form with your PIN number to verify before you submit. If you're a dependent, your parents will need to have their own PINs and sign off the online form, too, before submission. You'll need the pin for not only electronically signing your FAFSA but also to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN) and Student Loan Entrance Counseling, both of which are required before any federal financial aid will be awarded or disbursed. After submitting online, print the signature page, sign it, date it, and then send to the FAFSA office via mail.
MAKE SURE TO SUBMIT YOUR FORM EARLY
Some students make the mistake of waiting for the deadline. Don't wait! Because the FAFSA budget is finite, the earlier you submit, the bigger the likelihood that you'll get a substantial aid package. Of course, remember to take note of the deadlines imposed by the universities you're applying to, as well.
KEEP YOUR PERTINENT DETAILS IN A FOLDER FOR NEXT YEAR
One thing most students overlook is the fact that the FAFSA application is not a one-time thing. You will have to reapply each year, and circumstances in your family financial situation can affect the aid you receive. Keep the important details for your application in a folder so you can easily retrieve the data for next year's FAFSA form.
Common Financial Aid Mistakes
Not submitting your FAFSA at all. If you don't submit your FAFSA form, you lose out on the opportunity for financial aid. Don't be discouraged. Submitting your application is always an option.
Rushing through student loan entrance and exit counseling. Whether through traditional loan counseling methods or new innovative and interactive video-based student loan counseling, there is a reason why this is a required step. It is important for students to fully understand what responsibilities are associated with student loans prior to disbursement and after graduation. Some students rush through the counseling as if it is a burden and just part of the process. Do yourself and your students a favor and invest in fully understanding the student loan process and obligations.
Using a temporary address instead of your home address. When renewing FAFSA applications, some students list temporary addresses, such as dorm rooms. It's better to use your home address to ensure safe correspondence.
Not including yourself in the household size. Some students forget to include themselves when listing down the household size. Remember that you are a member of the household and a student, so take note of these details when filling out the form.
Entering nicknames instead of legal names. This seems like a very simple reminder, but you'd be surprised by how many people tend to forget their second names. Use the name that is printed on your social security ID.
Using the incorrect federal school code. When you use the wrong code, the FAFSA evaluation will be affected and you likely won't get the aid you expect.
Not including step-parents in the form. When you fill out your form, remember to include the income information of the step-parent in your custodial home.
Leaving items blank. Don't leave any field unanswered.
Forgetting to sign the form. This is important. As mentioned above, get a PIN and submit your online form. Print it, sign it, date it, and mail the signature form.
Submitting late. They say better late than never, but not in FAFSA's case. Late submissions mean you've likely missed out on better aid packages, so be sure to submit early.
For additional resources about the financial aid process and financial literacy please visit http://www.iGrad.com.
iGrad was developed by a group of former financial aid professionals who realized that many college students and graduates do not have access to the tools needed to succeed in the real world. We collaborate with over 600 colleges across the country to provide a comprehensive and customized financial literacy program.
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