By Francine Fluetsch on September 29, 2015

So, I’m guessing by now you’ve heard the word FAFSA at some point or other, but might not fully know what it is.

image via memegenerator.net

Official paperwork like this is always a bit confusing, but we will try to break it down here, because it’s important to be informed about it so you can apply and hopefully get some money for school!

What exactly is the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Note the word free. Since it’s free to apply, you should apply even if you aren’t sure you’ll get money from it. Once you apply, the form will figure out how much your family is expected to pay towards your higher education, and how much you could get in grants, work-study, and loans. Hopefully you’ll get some sort of grant so the money is free to you, but you’ll never know if you don’t apply.

When are the deadlines to apply?

FAFSA for the 2015-2016 school year will be due June 30, 2016. Write that down somewhere. But be careful! There are state deadlines that vary and your school may have a different deadline as well, so look all these things up so you don’t miss the deadline.

This changes depending on the year because it is based on the start dates of the school year, so always make sure to double check. Honestly, the sooner you can get your application in, the better. This will ensure that you don’t forget, and priority is often given to the students who complete the application first. As soon as it is up, try and fill it in so you get as much help as you can.

How often do you apply?

You will have to reapply for FAFSA every year to see if you will be able to receive aid. You might be eligible to complete a Renewal FAFSA, where a lot of your information from the previous year will be filled in for you, so the process will be faster. Depending on your income and other factors, you may receive more or less aid than the year before, so be prepared for that when you fill the application out.

Where do I apply?

This is an online application that you can find here. It will be tedious information that you may not know all by yourself, so you may want to sit down with your parents and have them help you fill out areas that you are not sure on. Do not leave fields blank! According to this article, it is best to type in a zero if the field does not apply to you, or else it will look as though you simply forgot to answer, and this could affect the amount of money you receive.

Key things to keep in mind

Here’s a list of some of the things you’ll need when applying for the FAFSA. If you already have these with you when you sit down to fill it out, the process will go by a lot quicker.

1)   Your social security card (note: it would be very helpful to start memorizing this)

2)   Driver’s license

3)   Your income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the previous year. This is why it’s always a good idea to file these things away. If you are married, have the same paperwork from your spouse on hand.

4)   If you are a dependent student, you will need the information from number 3 from your parents as well. (If you can file as independent, you are more likely to receive more money).

5)   Title IV Institution Codes for each school you are applying to. You can go online and find these out from your school

6)   Fastweb.com recommends that you have “Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as anything that changed from last year or anything that distinguishes the family from the typical family. Examples include high unreimbursed medical and dental expenses.” This is not required but could influence how much aid you end up getting, so if this applies to you, fill it in!

7)   Records and documentation of other untaxed income.

8)   Business records (if applicable to you)

Should I only apply to FAFSA?

Since FAFSA isn’t guaranteed, it shouldn’t be the only form of aid that you apply to. You should look up any scholarships or grants that apply to you, and fill them out at the same time since they require similar information that FAFSA does. The more places you apply to, the higher your chances are.

What should I use my FAFSA money for?

As wonderful as it would be to go on a shopping trip with your government given money, you need to use your FAFSA money for educational expenses like room and board, class fees, class equipment you might need like a laptop, school supplies, textbooks, and so on.

It is also important to note which money you will have to pay back and which money you get for free. If you get a loan, you will have to pay it back after you graduate, and since loans can get pretty complicated, you should pay a visit to your financial aid office so they can help you figure out a plan for paying it back when you are done with school.

I know this all seems complicated, but with a little research and the tips here, you’ll get it filled out as fast as you can. It will only benefit you to at least try, so give it a go and cross your fingers that you will get some aid. Even a little bit goes a long way.

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