The 2016-17 FAFSA is available online now. Parents of high school and college students need to push aside any negative thoughts and disregard any FAFSA myths they have heard as they deal with the application that opens the doorway to financial aid for most colleges. Even if you don’t think your family qualifies for income-based financial aid, the FAFSA needs to be completed to qualify for other types of assistance, and to be eligible for federal student loans. Here are some things you need to know about the 2016-17 FAFSA:
You’ll need an FSA ID: This is a new requirement. Even if you had an FSA PIN last year, you need to acquire an FSA ID to log in and complete this year’s form. It is not difficult, and adds an extra layer of security to the process. If you sign in to any FSA site (including gov, FAFSA on the Web, StudentLoans.gov, NSLDS student access, etc.) after that date, then you will be redirected to a new FSA ID page. On this page, you will be directed to pick a username and password for sign in purposes, but just like with the PIN, you will have to wait 1-3 days for the Social Security Administration to verify for identity. (Currently, you are allowed a “conditional PIN” for the 1-3 days in order to complete the verification process.)
Do it now: You may think it is better to wait until after you file your income tax returns, but there are some forms of financial aid which are time-sensitive. Delaying the application could result in lost financial aid. You can use estimated income figures for now, and then go back and revise them once you file your 2015 income tax returns.
Allow the proper amount of time: If this is your first time completing the FAFSA, you will need about 30-45 minutes, provided you have already obtained your FSA ID and gathered your supporting documentation. Returning filers will find that it takes about 15-30 minutes to update their information for the coming year, if there have been no substantial changes in their financial situation.
Determine whether the student is dependent or independent: Independent students are only required to provide their own financial information, while dependent students must also provide data on their parents. The FAFSA has a series of questions you will answer to determine your dependency status.
Watch for other financial aid requirements: Check the websites or application packets of the colleges your student hopes to attend to determine if there are any additional requirements or deadlines you will need to meet.
Review your SAR carefully: After you submit your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, which will also contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Review this document carefully to be sure it matches your financial situation, as it will be used by your colleges as the basis for their financial aid decisions.
Don’t get distraught about verification: In some cases, you may be asked to provide additional documentation to support statements you made on the FAFSA. This is a routine procedure and should not be a problem if the statements you made were accurate.
There is also a twist to the process in 2016. Another FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic years will be online beginning October 1. Keep in mind all the lessons you learn from filling out this year’s form, and you will be a step ahead for next year.