The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the single most important financial aid application. The information provided in the application is used by federal agencies, individual schools and lending institutions to determine financial need and eligibility for loans and grants. Because funds are awarded on a first-come,-first-served basis, applying early is essential.
The FAFSA application for each year does not become available until Jan. 1. Applications for the fall semester can be submitted starting on that date. The application is lengthy and time-consuming, so it should be started as close to Jan. 1 as possible. If the online application is used, your data can be saved and you can return to where you left off at a later time.
Submit Preliminary Application
To complete your FAFSA application, you will eventually need your tax return information for the current year. For most, this information will not be available in January. Nevertheless, a preliminary application can be submitted using reasonable estimates for figures such as gross income and income tax. This will help ensure your eligibility for financial aid awards.
Do Your Taxes Early
After submitting your FAFSA, it is crucial that you complete your tax return for the year as soon as possible. For most, the greatest delay comes in waiting for tax documents from employers. If possible, ask to receive documents early. If this is not possible, familiarize yourself with your tax return so it can be completed quickly once the tax forms are received.
After completing your tax return, you can submit correction to your original FAFSA. Any change from your estimates can affect your eligibility for financial aid awards. For some, this could be a positive change that increases eligibility. Others could lose some eligibility and will have to make alternate plans. In either case, it's important to have an accurate FAFSA in place at the earliest possible time, ideally no later than February.
Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.