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FAFSA time is here again!

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It’s time to fill out the 2014-15 FAFSA for financial aid to help pay for higher education, according to a bulletin released by the U.S. Department of Education on Jan. 4. FAFSA is an acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for college, career school, or graduate school.

Many high schools sponsor Financial Aid workshops to help students and parents learn about college finance, the FAFSA, and other financial aid forms. Here are a sampling of Long Island school districts and their scheduled Financial Aid nights for the coming week:

What’s available

Filing a FAFSA gives the qualified access to $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study federal funds. Many states, schools, and private scholarships require the FAFSA as a prerequisite before awarding their own monies.

Who files

Students must complete a FAFSA to receive financial aid available (see What’s available) to qualified applicants for that school year. Most students are considered dependent not independent under federal education laws. Here’s the test. Information from parents of dependent students is also required. Which or both parents’ info depends on living together and marital status including single, divorce, widowed, married and same-sex marriages.

How to file

The FAFSA is free and applicants can get started now at www.FAFSA.gov. Tips and useful information are included on the FAFSA application to help filers answer the questions. For more assistance to complete the FAFSA, go to StudentAid.gov/fafsa.

When to file

As of Jan. 1, the FAFSA becomes available for filing for the next school year. For example, on Jan. 1, 2014 the 2014-15 FAFSA became available for the 2014-15 school year starting this fall. Since schools may award aid from some programs to early filers first, students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible in January even if their school, state or federal government has much later deadlines. Students must file that year’s FAFSA for each school year they seek financial aid.

What’s asked

The FAFSA seeks both personal biographical information and financial data including info from federal tax returns. Some applicants may be able to access tax return info from the IRS using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. However, estimates are permitted for those who plan to submit a 2014-15 FAFSA but haven’t yet filed a federal tax return for 2013. After submitting estimates, applicants must update the figures with the real numbers after their tax returns are filed.

What’s needed

To get started, students and parents of dependent students each need certain records, their own Federal Student Aid PIN and other information. Check this list of seven essentials and the 2014-15 FAFSA on the Web Worksheet before filing a FAFSA.

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