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Getting FAFSA-ready

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What are most people doing at 12:01am on New Year’s Day? You might think the answer is cheering in the New Year, but if you are a college-bound student or parent of one, your answer might be filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). January 1, 2014 is the first day you can submit the 2014-2015 FAFSA online, which college bound high school seniors and current college students need to fill out for consideration for need-based financial aid for the upcoming school year. While most colleges post priority deadlines for the form to be submitted by early or mid-February it is best to start working on the FAFSA early. In terms of the financial aid that is doled out from colleges, there is always more money in the pot at the beginning of the awarding cycle. It is best to be among that first group of financial aid candidates by meeting those college posted priority financial aid deadlines.

How can you prepare to fill out the FAFSA? First off you need to apply for a federal PIN, which is an electronic signature. Students and parents only need to file for a PIN once, and that PIN will then be used each year to apply for federal aid and also for any student loan programs used. Students and parents can apply for the PIN before the FAFSA filing season begins at www.pin.ed.gov. Items needed for the PIN include your social security number, full and correct first and last names and middle initial (as it appears on the social security card), date of birth, and street address.

Gathering documents in advance of filing the FAFSA can help streamline the process. Here is the information that students and parents (if you are including parent information) will need to fill out the FAFSA form:

· Social security numbers

· Driver’s license number (if you have one)

· If not a U.S. citizen you will need your alien registration number

· Federal tax information or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information

· Records of untaxed income like child support, interest income and veterans non-education benefits

· Information on cash, savings and checking account balances, investments (includes real estate but not home you live in), business and farm assets

In early January many people have not yet filed their taxes, nor even received their W-2 forms. The FAFSA can be filled out using estimated tax information. When taxes are completed you can go back into the FAFSA and update the necessary information. The FAFSA is linked with the IRS and if you file your taxes before filing the FAFSA you can have your tax information automatically inserted into the FAFSA form. The FAFSA website offers detailed instructions and help buttons for each question, online help and even a toll-free number for assistance. The Federal Student Aid website offers many resources on funding college and FAFSA related information.

So college bound students, what are you doing on New Year’s Day?

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