INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- USA Funds®, the nation's leading education loan guarantor, advises students planning to enroll in college or other postsecondary education programs during the 2010-2011 academic year to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA, as a key step in obtaining financial aid to help pay tuition and other college costs.
Information provided on the FAFSA helps determine a student's eligibility for federal grants, work-study and loans for higher education. Many student aid programs sponsored by state governments and individual colleges and universities also require the FAFSA.
"The economic recession has diminished the financial resources that many families planned to use to pay college costs, making financial aid all the more important," said Carl C. Dalstrom, USA Funds president and CEO. "Filing the FAFSA is key to accessing the largest share of student aid dollars."
USA Funds offers the following tips for families completing the FAFSA.
Meet state and school deadlines. To maximize a student's financial aid opportunities, submit the form to meet state and school deadlines. The FAFSA lists state deadlines. For deadlines set by the schools the student plans to attend, check the financial aid section of each school's Web site.
Complete your income tax returns first, if possible. Using information from federal income tax returns makes completing the FAFSA much easier. If you won't complete your tax return before the FAFSA-filing deadline, however, use estimated figures to complete and submit the FAFSA. Once you file your tax return, you will have to submit corrections of any differences between the estimated FAFSA information and your actual tax and income figures.
Avoid costly mistakes. Certain errors on the FAFSA can delay processing and potentially cost students aid dollars. One sure way to reduce errors is to complete the online version of the FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov, which provides built-in checks to prevent some mistakes. Common errors on the FAFSA include the following:
- Wrong Social Security numbers and birthdates, and applying under a nickname that doesn't match the legal name on your Social Security card.
- Failing to answer all questions on the form. You should leave blanks only if a FAFSA question specifically permits it.
- Reporting parent information in the student section or student information in the parent section of the form.
- Misreporting financial information, for example, reporting taxes withheld instead of taxes paid.
- Failing to list schools that the student plans to attend to receive information from the FAFSA.
- Failing to sign and date the form.
Dependent or independent? One section of the FAFSA asks a series of questions to determine if the student is dependent or independent. Parents of dependent students must answer a section of FAFSA questions. Independent students do not have to submit parental information on the FAFSA.
Ask for help. Among the many free resources to assist families with completing the FAFSA are College Goal Sunday programs in many states. Visit www.collegegoalsundayusa.org and select your state for dates, times and locations of College Goal Sunday. USA Funds supports College Goal Sunday programs in several states.
Dealing with unusual circumstances. If your family has experienced recent unemployment, death of a family member, divorce, major medical expenses or other unusual circumstances not reflected in the information you supply on the FAFSA, file the form and schedule an appointment with the financial aid office of the school the student plans to attend. Financial aid administrators have some latitude to adjust for certain extenuating circumstances.
FAFSA follow-up. A processor will apply a federal formula to the information supplied on the FAFSA to calculate an Expected Family Contribution figure for the student. Results of the FAFSA processing are reported to students in a Student Aid Report. The student's EFC also will be reported to schools the student listed on the FAFSA. Each school then will compare the student's EFC to the school's cost of attendance and attempt to make up the difference by offering the student a financial aid award package that may include grants, work-study and loans. Some students will be asked to supply their school with copies of tax returns and other documentation to verify information submitted on the FAFSA.
As the name implies, the FAFSA is a free application, and by visiting www.fafsa.gov, families can complete and submit the form without charge.
Headquartered in Indianapolis, USA Funds is a nonprofit corporation that works to enhance postsecondary education preparedness, access and success by providing and supporting financial and other valued services. For more information about USA Funds, visit www.usafunds.org.
SOURCE USA Funds