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How to Fill Out the FAFSA

One of the most important steps you can take to ensuring you receive the financial aid you may be eligible for is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is available online and is the first step toward getting you money for college in the form of grants, low-interest loans, scholarships, and work-study arrangements. Follow these steps to fill out and submit the FAFSA.
 

Get a PIN for your FAFSA Account

Your Federal Student Aid personal identification number (PIN) serves as an electronic signature for all student aid related forms submitted online, including the FAFSA. The FAFSA becomes available for the following academic year in January, so it's a good idea to apply for your PIN in December, since the process can take a few days. Visit www.pin.ed.gov and follow the steps to apply for a PIN. You will need to provide your name, social security number, and date of birth. Keep your PIN handy yet secure -- you may need to use it more than once. If you believe your PIN has been compromised, visit the PIN website to disable your PIN and get a new one.
 

Create an FAFSA Account

When you visit www.fafsa.ed.gov you will be greeted by a landing page that allows you to immediately get started with your FAFSA, as early as January. The first step is to create an account, using your name, social security number, and a password that you create. Be sure to keep your password handy yet secure. Once you have created your account, you will be able to start filling out the FAFSA, save what you have filled out and come back to finish later, and download an FAFSA worksheet. You can also download and print a paper version of the FAFSA (or request one sent to you in the mail), but it is highly advisable to fill out and submit the FAFSA online, which is often faster and can be more accurate.
 

Gather Necessary Documents

You will save time and minimize errors by gathering all necessary documents before you start filling out the FAFSA. You will need:

  • Your social security card
  • Your driver's license (if you have one)
  • Your previous year's W-2 forms or other records of income
  • Your previous year's Federal Income Tax Return (as well as one for your spouse, if you are married)
  • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040 EZ, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federal States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Your parents' previous year's Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
  • Any untaxed income records for the previous year
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records
  • Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

 
Gather as much of this information ahead of time as possible, and keep them on hand in case you need them later. If you are missing anything, you can get started and save your work online, returning to finish it once you gather any missing materials. Also, try to file your taxes as early as possible so you can file your FAFSA early. If necessary, you can file with estimated income so as not to delay filing your FAFSA.
 

Fill out the FAFSA Worksheet

Once you create an FAFSA online account, you can download, print, and complete the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet, which will help you organize your information prior to filling out the actual form. This step is optional but can make filling out the actual form quite easy and fast.
 

Fill out the FAFSA Official Form

You can start filling out the FAFSA anytime, starting by logging into your account at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Each step of the form is accompanied by help information along the right margin to guide you through the questions you need to answer. You can save the application at any time and return to it later.
 

Check your FAFSA for Errors and Omissions

Once you have completed the FAFSA, be sure to check everything for any errors or omissions:

  • Be sure you have filled in your information in the Student section and your parents' information in the Parent sections
  • Double check your social security number
  • Check all figures, including income information
  • Check spelling of all names

 

Submit the FAFSA Online or by Mail

Once you have completed the FAFSA, you can submit it online using your PIN as your online signature, or send a paper version via mail to the address provided on the form.
 

File the FAFSA as Early as Possible

Be sure to file your FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible of each year you want to apply for federal financial aid. Some sources of federal financial aid are awarded on a first come, first served basis, so early filing is essential to ensure you receive the maximum amount of federal aid possible.

Finally, one point that may seem obvious but is worth mentioning: the FAFSA is free and you do not need to pay to submit it. Be wary of any services offering help with the FAFSA for a fee. These services are scams. Federal Student Aid on the Web provides more than adequate free resources to help you fill out the FAFSA, so you should never have to pay to have someone fill out the form.
 

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