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Five Things You Should Know About Financial Aid for College

If you have a high school senior in your house, you may be up to your ears in college applications. Focusing on admissions and essays is a must, but you should also consider how to pay for that college education. Why should you make financial aid for college a priority now, before your student gets acceptance offers? Because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA for short, just opened its online application window on October 1. While you do time to complete it, you should try to finish it as soon as you can because some aid is available on a first-come, first- served basis. Here are five important reasons that may convince you to apply for financial aid now.

1. Not all financial aid is need-based. Some financial assistance is based on a student’s merit, such as scholarships, while other types of aid, including loans, grants, and work-study programs, may be awarded because of financial need. The best way to find out what assistance may be available is by completing the FAFSA.

2. You should look locally. While the FAFSA is primarily for federal aid, it may also be used to determine eligibility by state, college, and private sources. In fact, some of these other providers may have an earlier deadline than June of 2018 for the FASFA itself, which is another reason why you should start applying soon.

3. It costs you nothing. The FAFSA is completely free for every student, and it should not take you too long to finish it. Gather your necessary information before you start to make it easier. Some things you should have ready include:

  • You and your students’ Social Security numbers
  • Your student’s driver’s license number
  • Bank account, investment, and other asset information
  • Your most recent tax return records
  • Any information about untaxed income

The IRS website can link to your FAFSA application to fill in your relevant tax information, but the rest of the material you are responsible for providing. Be sure to review your student aid report for any errors after you complete the form.

4. You can find out your expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount that the government and/or schools expect that you should be able to pay, which may not match what you think you can afford. It can be helpful to understand this number to determine how much financial aid for college your student will need. You may want to consider loans or additional private scholarships to help make up the difference.

5. You should do it every year. The FAFSA is not a one-time thing; you can fill it out every year for financial aid for college. Keep in mind that your finances can change from year to year, and your student may qualify for assistance later even if he or she is not eligible now.

Here is one more thing to consider: you should also look at what each college requires in terms of financial aid. Some schools may have an application of their own in addition to the FAFSA. You can also discuss your needs with an official at each college or university that your student wants to attend if you have additional questions or feel that an offer is not going to cover enough of the expenses. Private student loans may be available, but you should consider them as a last resort after you have exhausted all other methods of aid.

College is not getting any cheaper, and even if you have saved for your child’s education, your investment may not have grown at the same rate as education expenses have. Having a realistic expectation of what works for your student should be part of your college application process to set up a future that starts with a good education without a large debt to achieve it.