THE BLOG
12/30/2013 12:41 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

Happy New FAFSA Year!

Start off the New Year right. Forget making resolutions you know you will break. If you're a college student -- or the parent of a high school senior, or college student -- New Year's Day is about more than bowl games. January 1 is the first day you can file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The forms can be found and filed online at www.fafsa.ed.gov, where you can securely complete the filing process. Even if you filed the form last year, you must refile this year, updating all information about income and assets of both the parent(s) and student.

If you're hoping for almost any form of financial aid or scholarship, FAFSA is essential. Nearly $8 out of every $10 available for student financial aid requires this huge form to be completed, according to www.collegeup.org. This site is filled with advice on how to complete the forms, how to qualify for the most aid, and techniques to help you through the process. Here's what you should do right now:

Don't Wait for Tax Returns to File FAFSA

Don't wait to file your FAFSA until your tax return is finished on April 15. Most schools and many scholarships and grants have far earlier deadlines, and you could miss out on big money if you wait until your tax return is finished.

The FAFSA form requires information about your 2013 income -- and if you start the process now, you may not have received the W-2 and W-9 forms detailing your income for the past year. But don't let that delay the filing. You can use the "Will File" option on line 79 to estimate the income figures, then go back to revise the form when the tax returns are finished.

Get Organized

The most overwhelming part of the FAFSA project is simply getting organized. As a student, you need not only your own information -- but your parents' income and assets, as well. And for children of divorced parents, this can be an especially burdensome task.

But the sooner you start, the sooner you finish -- and the more aid you might receive. Someone has to be "in charge" of this project, because if your family just sits back and waits for everyone to get information together, it will never happen!

To find out exactly what information you need, download the FAFSA worksheet, which will give you information about completing FAFSA on the web. You'll need to create a PIN to access your partially completed forms as you go through the process. You can even use a handy tool to access last year's tax returns, and transfer information securely to your FAFSA -- all explained in the worksheet.

Your "FAFSA Parent"

If you're the dependent child of married parents, the process is a lot easier than if you are a child of divorced parents, or unmarried parents living together, or same-sex married parents. And that decision about who is your "FAFSA parent" can make a big difference in your aid award. It's not always the "custodial" parent whose information is required on the form. Also, the form has changed for the 2014-2015 year, to reflect legalized same-sex marriage, and some other factors. So before you start hounding the "wrong" parent for info, take the quiz at CollegeUp.org to determine whose information you need to use.

Those are the first things you must do, just to get ready to file FAFSA. Once you're on the right track, everything is a bit easier. But you can always get help online at www.FAFSA.ed.gov , or through your college guidance office, or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243).

Even better, check out the College Goal Sunday national program designed to help students and parents file FAFSA. Use this link to find one of their free, expert, confidential programs near you.

Of course, you'll have questions! And now you know where to get answers. So don't procrastinate in filing FAFSA. Financial aid and many scholarships and grants are handed out on a "first come, first served" basis. The money you receive as a result of FAFSA could make a big difference in your financial future. That's the Savage Truth.

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