The FAFSA is obviously one of the most important documents you will fill out in the financial aid process. Federal aid is one of the most sought after kinds of financial assistance, and can provide you with substantial amounts of money to help pay for your education through various education loans. Filling out the actual FAFSA is also part of the process that everyone dreads the most. In fact, many people lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars in financial aid that they could have been eligible to receive simply because of unknown errors made while filling out the FAFSA.
We know that the FAFSA can be overwhelming at first glance (and second...and maybe third), so below is a list of some FAFSA "dos and don'ts" to help ensure that you get the most out of the federal financial aid system.
FAFSA DOS AND DON'TS
- Do look into practice FAFSA documents that are available on the FAFSA website that you can fill out periodically for free. This will show you everything you should be prepared for when filling out the actual document, giving you head start before you even receive the real thing.
- Do get all your personal financial information together before filling out the FAFSA. After doing the practice FAFSA, you should have some solid general ideas for what to expect on the real document. Once you know what will be asked of you, make sure you have all the information at hand and ready to go, so you won't be scrambling to find it all when you are filling out the actual FAFSA. This includes information like your Social Security number, driver's license and FAFSA PIN.
- Do calculate your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) ahead of time. Many websites, even college or university sites, now offer EFC calculators that will give you a good estimate of what your EFC will be. This allows you to be aware of around the amount you will be expected to provide based on your family assets and other personal information, allowing you to better prepare yourself for paying for the school of your choice, as well as looking into additional forms of aid, such as scholarships and state or private loans.
- Don't put it off! The first day to send in the FAFSA is January 1st of each year. While this is surely not an ideal task to be doing on New Years, it will definitely be to your financial benefit to fill it out and send it in as early as possible. Federal financial aid goes by a "first come, first served" guideline, so the sooner you send in your FAFSA, the better chance you have of getting more aid.
- Don't leave any questions blank! Blank responses are one of the costliest errors on the FAFSA because many people do not know that they must write something down, even if it does not apply to them. Double check all of your responses before sending in the FAFSA to make sure you did not leave anything out, as it could cost you significant amounts of financial aid.
- Don't forget to renew the FAFSA every year! Your personal financial situation can change in as little as a few weeks, let alone one year. The FAFSA requires that it be renewed each year to keep it current along with your finances, making sure that you are receiving the right amount of financial aid based on your eligibility.
- If the process of completing the FAFSA is causing more stress than you think is necessary, do consider hiring a financial aid consultant. These experts can help guide you through the financial aid process, making sure that you are filling out the applications correctly and on time, thus significantly decreasing your chances of making costly errors on your financial aid documents.