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2014 FAFSA goes live

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Happy New Year!

In case you missed the email, the online FAFSA application went “live” a minute after the Times Square crystal ball hit bottom at midnight on January 1st. It’s housed in a spiffy website featuring a few cool bells and whistles, including mobile optimization and instruction videos that should make the 2014-15 FAFSA experience the best ever.

And although the site experienced a few software hiccups on New Year’s Day, the problems are fixed and everything appears to be running smoothly now.

So there’s no excuse for delay. It’s time to sharpen the pencils, put fresh batteries in the calculator, dig out tax returns, and organize bank records to tackle the single most important form necessary to make yourself eligible for millions in federal aid.

Because the best time to file the FAFSA is right NOW!

With thousands of families competing for money this year, you need to submit your application as soon as possible. The earlier the FAFSA is received, the earlier it will get processed, and the better positioned you will be for grants and scholarships.

And much of this money is first come, first served. Get the picture?

Start by organizing your documents. You need your Social Security number, driver’s license, income tax return, bank statements, and investment records.

Next, if you haven’t done so already, apply for a PIN number. Both a parent and the student will need PIN’s to sign the FAFSA electronically. The application is easy and there’s no longer any waiting—a PIN can be generated on the spot.

Although a paper application is still an option (and can help as a tool for drafting responses off-line), it is highly recommended that you complete the web-based form and submit electronically to save time. If you have no internet access at home, libraries have online connections and schools usually will make accommodations to support online FAFSA filing. Ask your guidance counselor or college/career center specialist for help if necessary.

But keep in mind that if you complete the FAFSA in a public place, you need to take extra steps to protect your privacy. Don’t walk away from the computer and be sure to completely sign off once you’re finished your work.

Keep in mind that this is the FREE Application for Federal Student Assistance. Don’t pay for PIN’s or application forms. If in doubt, ask. FAFSA customer service representatives stand ready to respond online or by phone.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of early FAFSA filing. Money is seldom an unlimited resource, and colleges are experiencing financial problems just like the rest of us. They have deadlines and bureaucratic procedures to follow in the preparation of aid packages. And many of these deadlines come much earlier than you think.

Also, don’t delay just because you haven’t filed taxes yet or if you know you won’t have enough information to file taxes until close to the April deadline. Use last year’s returns and plan to amend later. Corrections to the original 2014-15 FAFSA may be submitted up until mid-September, 2015.

But if you want to file your taxes first, keep in mind that the IRS Retrieval Tool is a very handy device. If you meet eligibility requirements and have already filed, the tool will allow you to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA and will transfer that data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website (note that if you don’t use the IRS Retrieval Tool, colleges may require that you submit a copy of your tax return or your parents’ tax return if you’re a dependent student).

As my brother-in-law says, “WIGIG”—when it’s gone, it’s gone. So if you need financial aid, apply for it. Get FAFSA started now. Why wait?

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