The FAFSA – the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is your child’s ticket to every flavor of financial aid, including scholarships, PELL grants and student loans. So mark your calendar, because January and February are FAFSA season for families with kids in college, or high school seniors who will start college in the fall.
Filling out this financial paperwork may have all the appeal of a root canal – although changes proposed by the Obama White House may soon ease the way – but with a little prep work you can get through it in an evening. And it’s the kind of paperwork you do not want to delay, especially in the current economic climate. Think your child won’t be eligible? Or that your kid only needs to apply to his college for financial aid? Think again. Your child’s college scholarships and the FAFSA are joined at the hip – all your family’s financial information goes into this central clearinghouse, and colleges pull the data they need from there, including the information they need for non-financial needs based aid. No FAFSA? No money.
There are three things you should do immediately, before you even tackle the FAFSA.
First, get a personal identification number from the Department of Education. This PIN serves as your electronic signature on the FAFSA application, so both you and your child will need to get one. It’s utterly painless to acquire. The Department of Education web site walks you through each click, and e-mails you the magic numbers. Put them somewhere safe, as you will use them and re-use them every winter for the next four years.
If this financial aid application is for your son and he is 18 years or older, make sure he has registered with the Selective Sevice. It’s not only the law, it’s also a requirement for federal student loans.
And finally, it’s easiest to do the FAFSA paperwork if you have already completed your federal taxes – and those of your child – for last year. Haven’t done them yet? Then assemble all the paperwork – W2s, additional income receipts, etc. – so you can grab the numbers you need.
Ready to start the actual FAFSA process? This link will take you directly to theFree Application for Student Federal Aid website where you can register and begin filling in paperwork with your child.