THE BLOG

Five Things to Keep in Mind as You File For Financial Aid

01/02/2013 11:10 am ET | Updated Mar 04, 2013

The New Year is a time for reflection, introspection, and resolutions. One resolution you should make if you are a high school senior or the parent of one is to get your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submitted before the end of this month.

I know, the form is looking for information from your 2012 federal tax return but you can submit this form prior to completing your taxes using estimated income figures. Submitting an estimated form will ensure you will not miss any college or state financial aid deadlines. The information you submitted can be updated once your federal taxes have been completed.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you complete the FAFSA or any additional financial aid forms:

1. If you plan to submit your FAFSA electronically obtain a pin number for the student and one parent. The pin is used to electronically sign your completed FAFSA. This form requires the signature of the student and one parent for submission. Also gather the title IV school codes for the schools you will list on the FAFSA. Write all these numbers down and put them in a folder for easy access.

2.Gather all the materials you'll need before you get started. Financial aid forms will typically require information from your federal tax return, social security numbers of parents and the student, the student's drivers license number, current bank statements, investment statements, mortgage information, untaxed income statements (1099 income, untaxed social security income, child support received, veterans benefits etc).

Make a copy of each document as you collect them and add them to your folder. This will be helpful if you have additional financial aid forms that need to be completed, are selected for verification or to confirm the information you have submitted.

3. When completing the FAFSA or any other financial aid forms answer all questions. If the question does not apply to you enter a zero or N/A (which ever is appropriate) if you leave a question blank the processor will not know whether the question should be zero or if you simply missed the question all together. This can cause delays in the processing of your form which you do not want.

4. When you file any form keep a copy of the form you are submitting for your records. Also keep a record of the date you are submitting that form. When you file on line you are usually provided with an opportunity to get a copy of the form before you submit and a time date/ stamp for the submission. If you mail your form mail it using delivery confirmation. You then have a record of when your form was mailed and confirmation that it was delivered. These records are useful if a question arises about when your form was submitted.

5. Finally, the information you submit on financial aid forms may not always accurately reflect the financial situation in your household. As you complete the forms ask yourself if there is anything occurring in your household that is affecting your ability to pay for your child's education. Are you supporting an aging parent, does your income for 2012 have any one time income such as a bonus or one time withdrawal from a 401k or other retirement account, do you pay for private school education for the student's siblings, do you have unusually high medical bills, will you be laid off from your job or your hours will be reduced in 2013 etc.

These types of situations can affect your ability to assist your child financially but are not apparent on financial aid forms. If this is the case in your household you must let the colleges know about the situation through a special circumstance notice. Colleges have the ability to alter your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based upon a situation such as one listed above, but it is up to you to make them aware of the situation.

The last thing I would say to anyone with a high school senior preparing to head off to college is to complete the financial aid forms regardless of whether or not you think you may be eligible for aid. Don't assume you earn too much, many factors go into determining eligibility and each household situation is unique.

Completing financial aid forms is a lot like completing your taxes, and just like completing your taxes there are people and companies that can offer assistance. If you do opt to go it alone perseverance, consistency and documentation are key words to keep in mind as you take on this task. For additional information or to get help completing these forms, visit this website. Happy New Year!