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Federal Aid

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education awards more than $120 billion in federal grants and loans and work-study awards to millions of college students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Federal student financial aid is an integral part of paying for college, and applying for financial aid will take preparation, time and organization. Although the FAFSA process can be daunting, it can be simplified if you know your deadlines and have all your required FAFSA documents in order.

Every student who is planning on, or even considering going to college should fill out a FAFSA. Even if you think your family earns too much to receive federal aid, it's important that you still complete the FAFSA - many states and colleges use the FAFSA to award grants and scholarships. Plus, the FAFSA is required in order to take out any federal student loans and can help you qualify for lower-cost, forgivable student loans.

You can apply for federal aid on your own when applying for college. For extra help, go online to the Department of Education's website. Your high school's college counselor, and college's financial aid office can also answer any questions you have. Also, many schools offer free workshops on completing the FAFSA and applying for federal student financial aid.

Required FAFSA Documents

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the main application for federal aid programs. The FAFSA determines an individual's ability to pay for college. Be sure you complete your FAFSA here for free. Before applying for financial aid, gather the following documents:

  1. Social Security numbers for students and parents or Alien Registration numbers for non-citizens
  2. Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID - use an existing ID or create a FSA ID online
  3. Driver's license or acceptable government ID
  4. Previous years' tax returns and/or parents
  5. Asset records, including bank statements and investments
  6. Records of untaxed income
  7. Federal school codes for all of your prospective colleges, which you can find here.

You can begin filling out a FAFSA as early as October 1st each year and you must complete a new application for every year you are in school. FAFSA deadlines vary by state and are as early as the February before your financial aid request. Although federal grants are not affected by the date you file, certain states and colleges only award a limited amount of money; on a "first come, first served basis." Try to file your FAFSA be the "priority deadlines" to ensure you receive the best financial aid package possible. Check your state FAFSA deadline here.

If you are an undergraduate under 24, not married, do not have kids, are not a veteran nor a foster child or emancipated minor, you must use your parents' tax information as well as your own, regardless of who is paying tuition. If you are independent from your parents, you can appeal through your school's financial aid office. If you are married, you will need to provide financial information from your spouse as well.

FAFSA Applications

The easiest and quickest way to file your FAFSA is by filling out the application online. By filling out the FAFSA online, you can automatically transfer your income information from tax returns to the FAFSA form via the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you wish to file your FAFSA by mail, you can request a paper FAFSA by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 334-523-2691.

FAFSA Deadlines

Students have until midnight, 12:00 AM Central Standard Time on June 30 file a FAFSA. You will have to file and submit a FAFSA earlier in order to meet state and college financial aid deadlines. You can check out school deadlines here. Scholarships and federal work-study financial aid are doled to students who apply the earliest. Remember, you only have to file a FAFSA once to be eligible for all types of financial aid: federal, state and institutional financial aid.

Your college's financial aid office and your high school’s college counselor have resources that to help you through the financial aid application process. Stay updated with the financial aid process. Remember, when you’re paying for school, every dollar counts.

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Last Reviewed: December 2017