NEWARK, Del.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--While the confetti has been swept away and New Year’s celebrations are over for another year, many U.S. college-bound students still have one more important resolution to uphold in 2017: filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools rely on information students submit through the FAFSA to develop financial aid packages, states use it to determine student eligibility for state-based aid, and some scholarships require it as part of their application.
By simply completing the FAFSA, students can gain access to more than $150 billion in grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans. Families can get started on the process by creating their Federal Student Aid ID username and password at fafsa.gov.
“Although the FAFSA application release date was shifted forward to Oct. 1 for the upcoming academic year, state deadlines haven’t changed, and some are rapidly approaching,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “So, if you’ve made a resolution to file your FAFSA in 2017, now is the time to check it off your college prep to-do-list.”
To help families navigate the FAFSA process, Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company, has created an online library of tips, tools, and resources. Here’s what students and families need to know:
The FAFSA was made available three months earlier, but state
deadlines have not changed.
Some state deadlines for grant and scholarship aid are right around the corner, including Tennessee on Jan. 17, Missouri on Feb. 1, and Connecticut on Feb. 15. In addition, several states, including Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington, award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. All state deadlines are listed at fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.
Families must use their 2015 tax information.
This should help simplify the application process, as families will no longer need to estimate their taxes to complete the FAFSA, or put off completing it until they file their 2016 taxes. Asking families to use their 2015 tax return, or what the Department of Education calls “prior-prior year” tax information, also means more families will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which helps save time by importing tax information directly into the FAFSA.
Award letters may be mailed to students earlier.
Due to the earlier availability of the FAFSA, many colleges are now releasing financial aid award letters earlier this year. Award letters provide important information, including the school’s estimated Cost of Attendance and the financial aid package — including scholarships, grants, and loans — offered to the student. For more information on analyzing award letters, visit SallieMae.com/awardletters.
Families of college-bound students should also remember the following strategies for successfully completing the FAFSA:
- Gather any required information before attempting to file the FAFSA. In addition to creating a username and password — Federal Student Aid ID — families will need Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, 2015 tax returns, and W-2 forms. Having this information ready to go before you begin the application can expedite the process.
- Complete the FAFSA as a high school senior — and every year in college. Filing a new FAFSA each year is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and it is important to note that the amount of aid may change each year. Additionally, nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid, so it’s essential that all families complete a FAFSA on an annual basis.
- The most convenient way to fill out a FAFSA is online at fafsa.gov. And remember, filing the FAFSA is always free. Never pay a fee to file the FAFSA, and make sure to file at fafsa.gov.
- Consider listing any state schools first on the FAFSA. Families will need to list at least one school on the FAFSA. Some state aid is based on the order in which schools are listed, so families may want to list state schools first to be in line for any available 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 tips about completing and submitting the FAFSA, or to download the College Ahead Mobile App to keep track of key 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.