DES MOINES — For college-bound students and their parents, January is more than the start of the New Year; it also marks the availability of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2013-2014 academic year. The FAFSA is a standardized application used to determine eligibility for federal, state, and in some cases, institutional financial aid.
System updates and enhancements have helped make filing the FAFSA easier for students and families.
“We encourage students and parents to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov because the help features and built-in edits, which reduce applicant error, simply aren’t an option when completing the paper FAFSA,” explained Karen Misjak, Executive Director of the Iowa College Student Aid Commission (Iowa College Aid). “With all of the recent enhancements to the online form, it only takes about 30 minutes to complete.”
Iowa College Aid urges all college-bound students to complete the FAFSA regardless of their financial situations.
“Most families are eligible for some form of financial aid, and they need to apply early to meet the priority deadlines associated with different programs,” Misjak said.
To help Iowa families, Iowa College Aid offers the following FAFSA filing tips:
• File the FAFSA no matter your financial situation. Even if you do not think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, you should still file the FAFSA. Many colleges require that you file the FAFSA to be considered for institutional aid. In addition, you are required to complete a FAFSA to be eligible for federal Stafford loans and completing the FAFSA does not obligate a student to accept any of the aid offered.
• Never pay to file the FAFSA. You can file the FAFSA for free at www.fafsa.gov. Reputable resources, including Iowa College Aid, are available to help you for free.
• Meet state and college deadlines. Many states, including Iowa, have a FAFSA filing deadlines for state-funded scholarships, grants and work-study opportunities. Several State of Iowa financial aid programs have priority filing dates as early as March 1. Keep in mind, most colleges and universities have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. Students should check with their college of choice to determine its priority deadline for financial aid and if additional documentation is required.
• Double check information to avoid delays. Review your FAFSA information before you submit it for processing. Make sure the student’s Social Security number and the parent’s Social Security number are typed in the correct spaces. Mix-ups like these will cause processing delays.
• It’s easier than ever. One of the newest enhancements, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, allows applicants to automatically transfer the required tax information to the FAFSA, which saves time and reduces applicant error. This year, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will launch in early February. Students and families can file the FAFSA prior to completing their 2012 taxes by using estimated income information. Once taxes are filed, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can be used to make a FASFA correction, streamlining the completion of the FAFSA.
• Electronically sign your FAFSA. The electronic application is not complete until both the student and parent electronically sign the FAFSA using their Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Numbers. You can apply for student and parent PINs while completing the FAFSA online, or you can go to the Federal Student Aid PIN website, www.pin.ed.gov, to obtain your PIN prior to starting the FAFSA.
Students and families who have questions about applying for financial aid, or are interested in learning more about the resources available for college and career planning can contact Iowa College Aid at (877) 272-4456. Additional resources for Iowa families as they plan, prepare and pay for college are available on Iowa College Aid’s website, www.IowaCollegeAid.gov.