FAFSA for beginners | TheUnion.com

FAFSA for beginners

Beginning Jan. 1, many households will begin filing the FAFSA. The FAFSA stands for the Free Application For Federal Student Aid and is the most important document they’ll need to file to receive financial aid.

Parents and students will need to file this document to be eligible for grants, scholarships, work-study and government loans. A student is considered a dependent student and cannot file independently unless they are more than 24-years-old, a college graduate, married, a veteran, a parent, or a foster child. Dependent students will need their parents to file the FAFSA in order for them to receive financial aid. The FAFSA should be filed electronically at FAFSA.ed.gov.

Prior to Jan. 1, parents and 12th grade students can register for a PIN number which will allow them to access the FAFSA. After Jan. 1, parents and students can file the FAFSA, which will use financial information, from last Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012. This financial information is based on 2012 tax returns. If you are unable to complete your taxes for 2012 prior to filing the FAFSA, you should estimate your tax information, file the FAFSA, and then edit it once you have correct information. The PIN number is used to access your FAFSA and modify information.

Information from the FAFSA will be used to calculate the amount of money that families will be expected to pay for their child to go to college: the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). A family’s financial aid offer will be calculated by subtracting the parents’ EFC from the total cost of attendance at college. This financial aid award may include grants and scholarships, work-study and loans. Students will be able to list 10 colleges to have the FAFSA information sent to.

There are some great tools available this year to help families estimate the cost of attending college. The first is the FAFSA 4caster (FAFSA.ed.gov), a free financial aid calculator that gives an early estimate of your eligibility for financial aid. This calculator is not just for seniors but can be used by all students and parents to plan ahead for college funding.

The second tool is the Net Price Calculator posted on college websites. The Net Price Calculator allows families to see the total cost of attendance at each college and the amount of financial aid a student might be eligible for. Because financial aid awards may vary from year to year it is important to know that this calculator may only be an estimate of the first year of college.

If your family has special circumstances that might not be reflected adequately in the FAFSA you will need to contact the financial aid office at each college you apply to. While the FAFSA may appear somewhat complicated, most families are able to fill it out without much difficulty. Filling out the FAFSA is the most important thing you can do to get need-based money to attend college.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District for 20 years. She currently operates a college admissions consulting business and can be reached at jillncca@yahoo.com. or at http://www.getyouintocollege.com.

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