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FAFSA: Your key to financial aid for college

Applying for financial aid can be a challenge and many parents delay the process as long as they can. Some think they need to wait until their taxes have been filed, when in fact an estimate based on your previous year’s taxes is completely acceptable. Sometimes parents feel embarrassed to apply for financial aid, even in this uncertain economy. Too many parents do not apply for financial aid because they do not believe they will qualify. Never make this assumption. The easiest way to lose out on available financial aid is to not apply for it.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the main form used to determine eligibility for federal aid, including Pell Grants and student loans. The majority of parents fill out the FAFSA application online. It is the first step to getting financial assistance for college. Some private colleges also want their families to fill out the CSS form.. Many student financial aid programs are on a first come, first served basis.

The FAFSA is the critical connection between you and your student’s future financial aid package. FAFSA deadlines include federal, state, and college deadlines. Any outside scholarships you apply for may also have a FAFSA requirement and deadline. FAFSA deadlines vary from state to state and from school to school. Some deadlines are as early as mid-January, while others are later.

Parents need to avoid making mistakes on the FAFSA form because this will only delay the application from being processed. Some common mistakes that parents make include the following:

1. Not listing all of the colleges to which your student is applying

2. Writing in incorrect tax amounts

3. Not updating your information once your taxes are filed

4. Leaving a question blank

5. Not signing the FAFSA form

Most colleges and universities start sending out admission acceptance letters between January and April. Financial-aid award notices come close behind. Expect a financial-aid award letter to arrive within two to three weeks after an acceptance letter. If you have not heard from a school, it is appropriate to contact the financial aid office and inquire about your financial aid package and when you can plan on receiving it.

Who gets financial aid for college? Those who take the time to apply for it.

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