An FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and completing it is the first step to obtaining federal education grants and loans. The amount of aid you are eligible to receive is based on your estimated family contribution, or EFC. This is the amount the federal government believes you can contribute toward the cost of higher education, based on a series of complex calculations. This is not the amount you are actually expected to pay, just the amount that determines how much aid you are eligible for, since most federal aid is need based. For you to receive the highest awards in grants, you must have a low EFC.

File as an independent student. An independent student is one who cannot be claimed on anyone else’s taxes as having received at least half of their support from someone else, such as a parent. Since independent students are responsible for paying for their living expenses, they are unable to contribute as much to their own educational expenses. On the flip side, dependent students are required to report their parents’ income on the FAFSA. This will significantly reduce the amount of aid granted.

Lower your income. Your income is a major driver of how much your EFC will be. The lower your income, the less your EFC will be. Work as few hours as possible, or find more deductions to lower your adjusted gross income and taxes paid.

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Get married. Married students will often have a lower EFC than those who are unmarried, even though incomes and deductions are the same.

Have children. Having dependents of your own also affects how much you will be able to contribute to furthering your education. The FAFSA takes dependent children into account when figuring your EFC.

Transition some of your assets. As a student, you will be expected to contribute to your educational expenses. Having a large savings account or other assets may put your eligibility for maximum grant amounts in jeopardy. By transitioning some of these assets to your parents or trusted siblings, you effectively decrease your assets and your expected contribution.

Warning

It is illegal to lie on your FAFSA application. You should answer truthfully and accurately on each question. You may face stiff penalties by lying on your application.

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