January is a time when parents of high school and college students across the country are pulling out their hair over the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Parents who manage to accurately complete the FAFSA are able to open the gateway to billions of dollars in federal, state and college financial aid. Misunderstandings and mistakes can lead to delays, and perhaps even not receiving the full amount of aid to which the student in entitled.
It's no wonder that some parents throw up their hands in frustration and succumb to some of the perpetual myths of FAFSA. The first fallacy is that it is necessary to pay to submit the form. This is not true. It's a free application which can be filed online.
Oftentimes parents just assume that they make too much money to qualify for financial aid, so they don't even bother to complete the form. Financial aid is granted based upon many factors including need, household size and number in college. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine their financial aid, so parents may be doing more harm than good by failing to submit the form.
Other parents think that their child's grades are not good enough, but this is faulty thinking. While grades do have a huge association with getting your child into college, most financial aid is not based on grades. It is important to maintain certain academic levels once your child gets into college, but grades do not affect the initial financial aid award.
Because the FAFSA asks for financial information, some parents equate it with income tax forms and stress out over completing it accurately. While the Department of Education does want to have a good understanding of your financial situation, they really do try to make the form as easy as possible to complete. You will need to provide tax information, but an IRS Data Retrieval tool is available.
They also provide a number of free tools if you have any questions. Useful "Help and Hints" are located on the right side of every Web entry page. Users can also click "Need Help?" at the bottom of any Web entry page. You can even chat with live technical support staff by clicking the "Help" icon with the big question mark at the top of any Web entry page. If you think you have an unusual situation, request a free copy of the guide, "Completing the FAFSA."
Don't Wait -- Do It Now
You might believe that you have to wait until you file your income taxes before you can complete the FAFSA, but some colleges have deadlines that are coming up very quickly. You can make estimates using last year's tax returns and update your FAFSA once you file this year's returns. Remember that some aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis, so it is important to get the form done now. Even if your child files his or her own taxes, you might still need to complete a FAFSA because they have a specific definition of what it means to be a dependent student.
Once you manage to complete and file the form, you can sit back and relax - that is, until next year when you have to file the form again. But at least then you will know that these myths don't hold water!