Did you know that the average yearly cost of college is nearly $30,000? Many families aren’t prepared for all that’s involved in the cost of higher education, and many students forget that you must re-file your FAFSA every year to receive this much-needed aid.
Although it seems hard to believe, it’s already time to file your FAFSA for the 2021-2022 college school year. If you haven’t filed yet, use this helpful guide to make sure you maximize your aid for the upcoming school year.
What You Need Before Filing
Although many people feel like the FAFSA is a pain, gathering all the information needed ahead of time can make this process much easier. Before you can do anything else, you’ll need an FSA ID for the student applying for aid and one parent too. Luckily, applying for an FSA ID is relatively easy and only requires a Social Security number and a phone number or email address. However, waiting until the last minute to obtain this ID can delay your FAFSA application process.
In addition to your FSA ID, the U.S. Department of Education says that you’ll need several essential documents to complete your actual FAFSA. These documents include Social Security number for the student applying (or Alien Registration number for non-citizens), previous year tax records for both the student and all parents (i.e., 2019 tax info for the 2021-2022 school year), records of all assets, and records of any untaxed income.
Finally, you’ll need to make sure you have all of your school information before you apply. If you’re still deciding where you’ll be next fall, don’t worry: You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA form.
The Steps To File Your FAFSA
Once you’ve gathered all of the needed documents and information, go to FAFSA.gov and start filling out all of the required information. In many cases, this process can be pretty easy if you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to transfer your income information from the IRS directly to the FAFSA form. However, not all families will have luck with this depending on how you or your parents filed tax returns, so always make sure you have tax returns handy just in case.
Once you’ve filled out everything else, you’ll also need to enter the six-digit code for any school you plan to list. You can use Federal School Code Search to look up your school and get their six-digit code.
Then, once you’re done with everything, you “sign” your application using your FSA ID.
Common Mistakes That Cost Students Money
Unfortunately, many students simply don’t know how to handle the college aid application process. In fact, college research website Cappex says that many students or their parents make the same simple mistakes.
First and foremost, many students don’t fill out the FAFSA at all. While the FAFSA may not help middle-class families qualify for grants or need-based financial aid, even students who plan to take out student loans or obtain other scholarships must file their FAFSA.
Even when students do apply for the FAFSA, many wait until the last minute to do so. Students who file the FAFSA early receive as much as double those who wait until that June deadline.
Finally, students and their parents always have the right to file an appeal for more financial aid — but many families fail to do this. If your family has any special circumstances that aren’t reflected on tax returns or if your family has experienced any significant financial changes since the tax returns used on the FAFSA, it’s always worth contacting your school and asking them about making amendments. This information is especially critical as many students and their parents are still recovering from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although you may feel intimidated by the FAFSA, there’s nothing to worry about. Just make sure to collect all the information you need in advance and apply early. These tips will help you save a lot on college tuition.
Parts of This Article Originally Appeared on Moms.com