If you have found yourself asking this question as you began investigating how to pay for a college education, you are not alone. The process can be confusing and intimidating. Simply put, the FAFSA is a form that you must fill out to begin the process of applying for federal financial aid. FAFSA is used by nearly all colleges colleges and the federal government to get an assessment of your financial circumstances. This enables them to determine your degree of need for financial aid. Take note: regardless of your level of income or financial assets you can qualify for financial aid. However, there are certain types of programs that are specifically targeted at lower income families.
Once you fill out a FAFSA form you then wait until you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which will tell you your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is how much money the federal goverment figures that you and your family are able to pay towards a college education. This is based on a calculation of the amount of income, reasonable expenses, assets, and reasonable debt (some types of debt such as credit cards are not included) that you and your parents have. Your EFC will guide what types of financial aid you can apply for and what you are most likely to receive.
But to learn your EFC, you must start by filling out the FAFSA form. The FAFSA form will ask for a lot of information about your income and assets, so be ready for it. In fact, its best to have the documents in hand and ready before you start. Here is what you will need:
Your social security number
Your driver's license (if you have one)
Last year's W-2 forms and records of money earned
Your last year's tax returns (and, if you are married, for your spouse)
Your parent's tax return for last year
Untaxed income records for last year, such as social security, welfare, veteran's benefits, or any other untaxed income
Your bank statements for each month of last year
Last year's business and investment mortgage information, business records, and any other investment records
Your alien registration card, if you are not a US citizen
Once you have this information in hand, you are ready to fill out the FAFSA form. You can do this by hand and mail it in, or you can submit it electronically over the web. Submitting electronically is strongly recommended as you get a reply back with your SAR 2-3 weeks after filing. Whereas if you mail your FAFSA in, it generally takes 6-8 weeks to get your SAR. You can start the FAFSA filing process by going to: the federal government FAFSA website for more information and access to forms.
- Don't file early: The FAFSA form cannot be filed before January 1
- Don't file late: Ask your financial aid advisor when they need the information to meet their financial aid award deadlines
- Be completely accurate: Incorrect, incomplete, or poorly documented information can and will cause you to lose some or all of the financial aid for which you are available. Take the the time to do it right the first time, because there is no second time (until next year that is).