NEWARK, Del.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Financial aid season officially kicks off on Oct. 1, 2017, and it’s a prime opportunity for families with students heading to college next year to begin tackling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA is the first step to receiving any type of financial aid; schools use it to put together financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and some scholarships require it as part of their application.
Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company, has created an online playbook of tips, tools, and resources along with a visual guide to help families keep it between the FAFSA goalposts for academic year 2018-19. By completing the FAFSA, students can gain access to more than $120 billion in grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans.
“It’s that time of year to celebrate the return of fall and football, and for college-bound families, the FAFSA,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “Regardless of whether you think you will qualify for funding, don’t fumble by simply not completing the application.”
Sallie Mae offers six key points to help families move the ball down the field this FAFSA season:
- Get your season tickets in advance. Complete the FAFSA as a high school senior — and every year in college, even graduate school. Filing a new FAFSA each year is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and the amount of aid can vary year-over-year.
- Review the playbook before the game. Before beginning the application, both parents and students should create a username and password — a Federal Student Aid ID — and gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, 2016 tax returns, and W-2 forms. Having this information ready before Oct. 1 can expedite the process.
- Don’t miss the opening kick-off. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds, so the earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better the chance to be in line for that aid. Additionally, families who complete and submit the FAFSA soon after Oct. 1 may receive financial aid award letters from schools earlier. Award letter timing varies by school, so families should check with financial aid offices and school websites for more information.
- Go for the two-point conversion. Take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import and convert tax information directly into the FAFSA. After some critical changes were made to address privacy and security issues, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is scheduled to be back online by Oct. 1. More applicants and parents will be eligible to use the tool this year as amended tax return filers can now utilize it to transfer their IRS tax return information from their original tax return into the FAFSA form.
- Watch out for trick plays. The only way to fill out a FAFSA is at fafsa.gov. Filing the FAFSA is always free so watch out for sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Students can reduce the risk of identity theft by keeping their Federal Student Aid ID confidential and any suspected fraudulent account activity should be reported immediately.
- Don’t be a Monday morning quarterback. Completing the FAFSA earlier means families can receive critical information like the Student Aid Report (SAR) sooner. The SAR provides both basic information about student eligibility for federal student aid and answers to the FAFSA questions. The SAR also includes the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which provides a clearer picture about eligibility for financial aid as families begin applying to colleges. Families who complete the FAFSA online typically receive their SAR within three to five days.
Go for the extra point!
- Make your final draft picks. Families should list at least one school on the FAFSA. Some state aid is based on the order of how schools are listed, so families should consider listing state schools first to be in line for state aid. Additional information, including state deadlines for completing the FAFSA, is available at studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.
To watch Sallie Mae’s “Beginner’s Guide to FAFSA” video, get additional details about completing and submitting the FAFSA, and download the College AheadSM Mobile App to keep track of important deadlines, visit salliemae.com/fafsa.
Sallie Mae (Nasdaq: SLM) is the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company. Whether college is a long way off or just around the corner, Sallie Mae offers products that promote responsible personal finance, including private education loans, Upromise rewards, scholarship search, college financial planning tools, and online retail banking. Learn more at SallieMae.com. Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.