A Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required to determine your eligibility for various forms of financial aid, such as Pell Grants and federal student loans. Most colleges require a FAFSA to qualify for all grants and scholarships, regardless of your income. The FAFSA requires you to report your financial information, including your adjusted gross income as reported on your annual tax return. When filling out a FAFSA, there are a few tips and tricks that can simplify the process and ensure you receive the most aid possible.
You can file your FAFSA as early as January 1. People often assume they need to wait until their taxes have been prepared to complete a FAFSA. However, this is not the case. Financial aid is generally awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. When funds are limited, timing is important. You can complete your FAFSA and indicate your tax status as "will file." Use the last pay stub of the year to estimate your annual income or your parent's annual income if you are still a dependent. Once the taxes are prepared, log back into your FAFSA account and make the necessary corrections.
Know the Deadlines
The federal FAFSA deadline can differ from the state deadline. If you are applying for the 2013-2014 school year, online applications must be submitted by midnight June 30, 2014. In Florida, your FAFSA must be processed by May 15, 2013. In New York, the deadline is the same as the federal deadline, June 30, 2014. In California, the deadline is March 2, 2013. You can view the federal and state deadlines on the Federal Student Aid website. Each college also has its own specific deadlines for filing and processing of FAFSAs. Contact your school to inquire about deadlines to ensure you get your application in on time.
Using Your Parents' Information
If you are considered a dependent, you must use your parents' financial information to complete your FAFSA. If your parents are separated or divorced, you will only need to report information for the parent you lived with 51 percent of the time. You will need to indicate the month and year your parents were married, remarried, divorced or separated. If the parent you live with is remarried, you must include their spouse's information as well.
Fill Out Everything
Avoid leaving anything blank. Even if the question does not apply to you or the answer is zero, write a zero instead of skipping it. Blank spaces could result in errors, which will require further review and could delay processing. If you are not sure which college you are going to attend yet, enter the school codes for all prospective schools. You can enter up to 10 school codes on your FAFSA. Double check the code to ensure each school receives a copy of your FAFSA. The online application allows you to look up your school code by searching the name. You can also contact the school's financial aid department to request the code.
Reduce Your Adjusted Gross Income
The FAFSA uses your adjusted gross income reported on your tax return to calculate your expected family contribution. When completing your taxes for the year, be sure to claim all qualifying deductions to reduce your taxable income as much as possible. Maintain copies of your tax return. If you are selected by the school for verification, you will need to provide a copy of your tax return.
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Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.