If You Would Like Federal Student Assistance, Complete the FAFSA Form Now.

If you are planning to go to college next year as a new or returning student, you should apply for federal financial aid now.

I know this is illogical. We haven’t even finished our Thanksgiving break yet, and we advise you to plan a school year that doesn’t start in another 11 months or so. You may not even know where you are applying for school yet, let alone where you will go in August 2020.

But when it comes to financial aid, the earliest bird gets sick with the worm. The free Federal Student Aid App for 2020-2021 (FAFSA) is now available. You can fill out the free form online or through the myStudentAid app for iOS or Android.

Why the rush? Some states and colleges provide federal aid on a first come, first served basis, which means they may run out of funds. The Department of Education advises you to apply as early as possible if you want the maximum financial assistance. If you want to get grants and work to study (instead of potentially getting stuck with an aid package full of credits), you need to be in this early wave of applicants.

You might think that you need to pay income tax – or get your parents to do it – before applying, but this is no longer the case. In 2015, the Department of Education announced a change to the procedure to make it easier for students to predict college tuition costs.

For example, if you went to school in the fall of 2013, you will have to wait until January 2013 to access the FAFSA. Your parents then had to complete their 2012 taxes to get the income information they need to complete the FAFSA. By the time your parents finish their taxes, you may already know where you got accepted, but then you still have to wait for a financial aid verdict before moving on to school. It was, to put it mildly, a huge hassle.

Now, every fall, you can fill out the next school year form using the most recent tax return. If you are applying for college in fall 2020, you can apply now using your 2018 tax return.

In addition to this recently revised timetable, the FAFSA is plugging into the IRS data extraction tool . It extracts the most recent tax information and you don’t have to dig those tax copies and manually enter the information.

After submitting your application, you will find out your family’s estimated contribution to college tuition costs. Once you know which school you are going to (or meet your school’s requirements for returning students), you will receive an Reward Letter detailing your financial aid package. So you won’t get many answers or financial hopes at once, but at least you can head out into fall and winter knowing you have this app. When spring comes, you will be glad you did it.


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