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FAFSA opens October 1st – What you must know

The Free State Student Aid Application (FAFSA) is a form that current and prospective students must fill out each year. The FAFSA determines individual eligibility for student financial assistance and unsubsidized federal loans. Hence, it is incredibly important for every student to lower the price of their college education.

This year's FAFSA will open on October 1st. Here's what you need to know – why it matters, how to fill it out, and what problems you might encounter along the way.

Why you should file the FAFSA quickly

The FAFSA will be open from October 1, 2020 and technically only due on June 30, 2022. However, students should submit the FAFSA as soon as possible, even if they have not yet fully applied to college. Many universities require students to complete the FAFSA in order to be eligible for their scholarships and grants.

Many of them have limited resources. So if you wait to fill out the FAFSA, you may lose the chances that you would have been eligible for. In general, you should try to file the FAFSA within three months. Some reports say that students who submit within three months receive twice as many scholarships as students who wait.

If you fill out the FAFSA quickly, you will also receive more state scholarships and federal study opportunities. For any families particularly hard hit by this year's economic downturn, these additional funding options could make a big difference.

Many states offer their own scholarships for students in state universities, but some of them have a limited amount of money.

"While it can take a few months to run out of government grants, it is better not to hesitate," said Mark Kantrowitz of SavingforCollege.com.

Students who live in any of the following states and attend a state school should apply quickly to be eligible for state grants:

Alaska
Illinois
Indiana
Kentucky
Nevada
North Carolina
North Dakota
Oklahoma
Oregon
South carolina
Tennessee
Utah
Vermont

You should also submit the FAFSA ASAP in case there are any mistakes or errors. If your FAFSA is rejected because of an error, you'll need to go back and correct it.

"In theory, you get the priority of the original filing, but in practice you could miss out on government grants," said Kantrowitz.

Federal student loans are unlimited, so any eligible student who applies on time will receive loan financing.

Create an FSA ID

To fill out the FAFSA, you will need to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. This ID can also be used to view your student loan information.

If you have already completed the FAFSA, you already have an FSA ID. Both students and parents have their own FSA ID, and both must electronically sign the FAFSA with their FSA IDs.

If you or your parents have forgotten your FSA ID and cannot get it online, you will need to reset the username and password. You may have to call the Federal Student Aid Information Center to restore the account.

If you have the FSA ID, save it in a safe place like the LastPass browser extension. This will encrypt the username and password and save them until next year or when you make your first student loan payment.

Gather the necessary documents

If you are new to completing the FAFSA, there are certain information you should have on hand before you sit down.

Your social security number
Your parents' social security number
Information about your parents' tax return
Other relevant financial information such as investments, 529 accounts, trust funds and more

The FAFSA also offers an IRS data retrieval feature which can be used to pull information directly from your parents' tax return. This greatly simplifies the process and minimizes errors, as the numbers are taken from a submitted and approved tax return.

If you have already completed the FAFSA, you can often copy and paste information from previous years. When you fill it out for the first time, remember to save all relevant information in a secure physical or digital location for future reference from next year.

Ask for help

If parents and students have trouble completing the FAFSA, they can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC). Their phone number is 1-800-4-FED-AID and their email address is FederalStudentAidCustomerService@ed.gov.

You can also visit FormYourFuture.org, a website that compiles FAFSA resources from each state. If you are a high school graduate, the school advisor may also be able to provide relevant information and instructions to complete. Students who are already in college can contact their school's financial assistance office for help.

Get support from your parents

Sometimes it can be difficult for parents to complete the FAFSA. They may think completing it means taking out loans or co-signing federal loans.

"A college grant administrator may be able to help by stating that graduation from FAFSA does not require them to pay for college or take out loans," Kantrowitz said.

If your parents still don't want to help you fill out the FAFSA and are not planning any financial support, you can try submitting the FAFSA as an independent student. Kantrowitz said this would be difficult if you didn't meet any of the following criteria:

You are currently homeless or living with someone other than your parent or legal guardian
You live in an unsafe home environment or have been abandoned by your parents
Your parents are currently imprisoned or institutionalized.

"Students in such a situation should contact the college's grant administrator," he said. “Letters from school counselors, teachers, social workers, police, clergy, etc. can be very helpful. If the student lives with a classmate's parents, a letter from them can help.

If your parents don't provide their financial information, you should fill out the FAFSA anyway. You are not eligible for federal or state grants, but may still qualify for unsubsidized federal loans, which have lower interest rates, better repayment options, and more deferral and forbearance programs than private loans.

Zina Kumok (106 posts)

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance. As a former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four, and everything in between. It has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth, and Time. Read how she repaid $ 28,000 in student loans at Conscious Coins in three years.

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