Top 3 tips for applying for FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid
US students can now apply for 2018/19 FAFSA. Source: Shutterstock

Applying for FAFSA – United States financial student aid – can be confusing. Study International has compiled a list of the top three tips to make the process as smooth as possible.

Tip 1: The sooner you apply, the better

Although the final deadline is not until June 2019, many colleges and states require families to submit the form before next spring. Some states, including Alaska, Illinois and Kentucky, allocate aid on a first come first served basis. So, with 84 percent of college families saying they applied for a FAFSA last year, you might want to get your skates on.

Rather than leaving it hanging over your head and risking missing the deadline, get it done as soon as possible and have one less thing to worry about. Additionally, the FAFSA is unlikely to cover all your student expenses, so the sooner you submit your application, the more time you leave to organize private loans. Even if you do not think you will qualify for aid, it is still worth applying. A study published earlier this year found the average student who does not apply loses out on US$9,741.05 a year. You can apply for free here.

Tip 2: Ensure your finances are in order before applying

The FAFSA calculates how much aid you are entitled to based on your – and your parents’ – income and financial assets. Making sure you have filed your tax returns and have the hard numbers gives you a better chance of receiving aid than submitting approximate figures. “When you submit your FAFSA documents, you want them to be as complete and accurate and thorough as possible. If your tax returns aren’t all buttoned up, that’s going to be hard,” Matt Chancey, a certified financial planner based in Florida, told CNBC. The IRS Retrieval tool can ease this part of the process, as it converts tax return information into the FAFSA, saving you up to 30 minutes. Additionally, asset value is taken into account, so ensuring they are accurately valued is essential to getting the most out of your aid.

Tip 3: Parents can apply for additional loans

Sometimes, loans and scholarships may not be enough to cover college costs in the US. In this case, parents can take loans out to help cover the outstanding balance. Parents can apply for a Parent PLUS loan, where their lender will be the government. However, in light of the recent hacking scandals, many people have frozen their credit reports. In order to apply for loans, a credit check will have to be carried out to determine eligibility. This will require credit reports to be unfrozen. Although, the check should only take 7-10 days, so credit reports will not have to be unfrozen until this point.

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