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Feds make it easier to apply for student aid

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Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

DO YOU have a high-school senior who is knee deep in the college admissions process? Writing essays and filling out forms can be a stressful process for students, just as covering the cost of college can be for parents. fafsa-logo
This year, the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, submission period opened on October 1, three months earlier than in previous years. The federal deadline for the 2017-2018 FAFSA is June 30, 2018, but don’t wait that long to complete your application.
Sending the FAFSA in early could increase your financial aid package and give you more time to compare aid offers from different schools. States and colleges have deadlines of their own and your eligibility for aid can depend on meeting those deadlines.
The FAFSA determines your family’s expected contribution to the cost of higher education and serves as an application for federal financial aid, such as student loans, work study and Pell grants.
It’s also used by some state agencies and schools to determine aid, including merit-based awards, and some scholarships require that applicants fill out the FAFSA.Current and prospective college students must complete a new FAFSA each year. Dependent children will need their parents’ financial information to complete the form and parents might want to work on the application alongside their child.
Most students complete the form online at fafsa.ed.gov. While it can be complicated, once you have all the paperwork in order, the application could take less than 30 minutes.
New changes in tax requirements make filling out the form easier. The earlier submission period isn’t the only difference this year; there’s also a change in the tax information you need to submit. You’ll now report your income based on the student’s and parents’ tax return from two years before the school term begins – your 2015 tax return for the 2017-2018 FAFSA, for example.
You might be able to electronically transfer your tax-
return information to your FAFSA using the IRS data retrieval tool. If you’re unable or don’t want to use the tool and don’t have a copy of your 2015 tax return, you can order a free tax transcript of your return online, by mail or by calling 1-800-908-9946.
The 2017-2018 FAFSA requires that applicants use their 2015 tax-return information even if there have been significant changes in their financial situation since completing it. After submitting, applicants can contact schools’ financial-aid offices to make adjustments.
Pay close attention when filling out the FAFSA because some of the questions, such as those pertaining to current assets, are based on when you fill out the form, not your tax return.
Submitting your application early offers several advantages. Some states and schools distribute aid on a first-come-first-served basis. Submitting your application early can help ensure you’ll receive the aid for which you’re eligible before the funds run out.
You might also receive estimated financial-aid offers from schools earlier as a result. This gives families more time to compare the offers before making the big decision on which school
to attend.
You can list up to 10 schools on the FAFSA, including schools you’re considering but haven’t applied to yet. Submitting your information holds your place in line for aid and you can switch out schools later if you want.
After submitting the FAFSA, you’ll also receive a student aid report, or SAR, that you can send to additional schools.
Many states require you to send your FAFSA to at least one in-state school to be eligible for state grants and some require you to list a state school in the first or second position to be eligible. The federal department of education has a list of state requirements.
Bottom line. Submitting your FAFSA early could increase your eligibility for financial aid and give you more time to compare aid offers from schools.
Editor’s note: You can find more information online through the links included in our electronic version of this article at thepostnewspaper.net.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

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