As the end of 2017 comes at us and 2018 looms ahead, many college students are fretting over filing their FAFSAs for the next school year, running Fall 2018-Spring 2019. As a soon-to-be college graduate, I am so happy that I don’t have to fill out the FAFSA this year. After four years of doing it, I’ve learned some tips and tricks to help you file the FAFSA for the first time or the third time. Here’s the breakdown on the FAFSA, who has to file, when to file, how to file, and how to interpret the results.
Who has to file?
One common misconception about the FAFSA is that you don’t have to file if you know you don’t quality for financial aid, as in you are aware that your parents will be paying your entire tuition bill. However, most universities still require you to fill out the FAFSA so they have a record of your family income on file. Similarly, if you are planning to apply for any loans, you’ll have to fill out the FAFSA to prove that you do not qualify for financial aid.
No matter your financial situation, I highly recommend filing the FAFSA at the earliest convenience. What you think is an income that disqualifies you for aid might not be what a university thinks. If in doubt, contact the financial aid office at the schools you are applying to.
What paperwork do you need?
Filing the FAFSA can seem overwhelming, especially the first time, because it does require a lot of numbers and paperwork, but if you know what to expect, it won’t be so daunting.
Here’s what you’ll need
Your social security number
The social security number of your parents
Your driver’s license number
All relevant tax documents for you and your parents (W-2s, 1040s, etc)
Records of any untaxed income (child support, veteran’s benefits, etc)
Information on noncash assets (stock investments, real estate, businesses, etc)
Most of these documents will be available through you and your parents tax returns, so once you have a copy of those on hand, you should be set.
Can I do it or do my parents have to?
What I love about the FAFSA is that it doesn’t matter who fills it out as long as the information is correct. Because it involves a lot of number entering and basic form filling, it is easy for a pre-college student to do. If your parents are too busy or you don’t feel like they are ready to fill out the form for you, you are more than welcome to do it yourself. As long as you have the appropriate numbers and forms, you’re good to go. I loved filing my own FAFSAs through the years. It made me feel like a real adult and prepared me for tax season.
When is the deadline?
The technical deadline for the 2018-2019 school ear is June 30, 2019, but most schools require the forms much earlier in that, in the early months of the year. Since the form opens in October, most people file the FAFSA in late December or January and then update it when they file their taxes in February or March. Contact the schools you are applying to/attending to verify their deadlines. Remember that sooner is better than later, especially since much of the funding is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
What does EFC mean?
When you file your FAFSA, you’ll discover your EFC, or your estimated family contribution. This is the amount of money that, based on the algorithm used by the FAFSA office and your family income and assets, your family is expected to put towards your education. It is possible to have an EFC of $0, which means you qualify for the maximum amount of aid given by a university. If you have a higher EFC than anticipated, don’t fret. That money does not have to be paid out of pocket. Many students offset their EFC through scholarships, loans, work study jobs, and more. The calculated EFC simply helps university financial aid offices understand how much aid you need to attend their university and doll it out appropriately.