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Are you ready for FAFSA? 8 things you must know before applying for financial aid

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) TIME! Okay, okay, no one just loves filling out a long, technical form about your financial standing. But look on the bright side—you only have to fill out this form once a year, and doing so is your all-access pass to thousands of potential dollars to help you pay for college!

The FAFSA form is your application for federal grants like the Pell Grant, for Federal Work-Study funds, for low-interest student loans, and even scholarships offered by your college, the state of Florida, or other private organizations as well. Your College Completion Coaches have consulted expert resources to bring you eight important, must-remember tips for when you sit down to fill out your FAFSA. Let’s get to it!

1. Most students qualify for Federal Student Aid.
According to the Department of Education, for every student who fills out a FAFSA, almost all of them will qualify for federal loans, and 85 percent will qualify for some type of financial aid.

· You must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen.

· You must have a valid Social Security number.

· You must have a high school diploma or GED.

· Males from the ages of 18 to 25 must be registered with the U.S. Selective Service.

· You must promise to use any awarded federal aid for educational purposes only.

· You cannot owe refunds on any federal student grants.

· You cannot have been found guilty of either owning or selling illegal drugs when you were receiving financial aid.

Though the FAFSA may be long, it is worth the time it takes to apply. Don’t decide ahead of time that you don’t qualify…apply! You never know, you might get just what you need to pay for college!

2. The FAFSA is FREE!
Avoid scams! You can fill out the FAFSA for free at fafsa.gov. That’s “.gov” not “.com” or “.org”. If you end up at the wrong site and you are prompted to share your credit card information or to pay a submission fee, you are in the wrong place!

3. Some federal aid is first come, first served.
Some financial aid opportunities are only available to the first applicants. To get the most scholarship dollars possible, fill out your FAFSA as soon as it comes available (now available for 2019). Be the early bird and get out there and catch that worm!

4. For the 2020-2021 school year, you’ll need your 2018 taxes.
This bit can be a little frustrating, but never fear. Most applicants qualify to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). If given the option to click the “LINK TO THE IRS” button, I recommend that you seize the opportunity! This method is fast, free, and helps prevent both mistakes and headaches when providing your tax information.

5. You need to have an FSA ID before filling out the FAFSA form.
If you have never filled out the FAFSA before, you have to register for an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid). This username and passcode combination are used on various Department of Education websites. In some cases, if your FSA ID is brand new, you might have to wait up to three days before you can sign your FAFSA form and turn it in. If you haven’t already, sign up for your FSA ID today by clicking here.

6. If you are filing with your parents, they need their own FSA ID.
If you are a dependent student, you and your parent will each need your own individual FSA IDs so you can both sign your FAFSA form online. The Department of Education STRONGLY recommends against sharing your FSA IDs with anyone, even within families. Make every effort to keep these IDs confidential to avoid confusion that might delay your financial aid!

7. To save time, use the FSA ID to start your application.
When you apply online, you are given two ways to start your FAFSA: 1) Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID or 2) Enter the student’s information. By picking the first option, the website will automatically populate your personal information into the application. This not only speeds up the process, but it helps prevent errors. One of the most common FAFSA errors occurs when information on the form doesn’t match what’s in your FSA ID. If you are a returning FAFSA applicant, be sure that all the information is up-to-date on your FSA ID profile before filling out this year’s form.

8. Read carefully!
The FAFSA form uses language very deliberately, and sometimes you are being prompted to give very specific information. If you don’t read carefully, it’s easy to miss something.  For instance, pay special care to what information is needed from you (the student) and what information they need about your parents. Remember, if you are filling this out with a parent or legal guardian, when FAFSA says “you” or “your” the form is referring to the student, NOT the parent. If the FAFSA wants information about your parents, it will specify.

Listen, we know the FAFSA can be tricky. If you are having any trouble filling out your FAFSA, don’t be afraid to reach out to your College Completion Coach. We want to make sure you get to take advantage of every scholarship dollar and grant opportunity. Your Take Stock family is here to help!

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