The first day of October marks an important date for parents of college-bound students as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2018/2019 academic year becomes available.
One reason many parents don’t complete the FAFSA is that they believe they earn too much to be considered for financial aid. However, completing the FAFSA is a good idea no matter your income level. As I outlined in my post How To Fill Out The FAFSA in 2016, even students from families earning more than $200,000 per year may qualify for need-based aid from private colleges, and the FAFSA may also qualify your student for low-cost, forgivable federal student loans.
Another possible reason many parents and students fail to complete a FAFSA is completing the application is no simple task. To get some help cutting through the confusion, I spoke to Jodi Okun, college financing expert and Discover Student Loans Brand Ambassador, for some expert tips on filling out the FAFSA.
Okun recommends taking advantage of available resources to help you gather the information you’ll need to apply. One of Okun’s favorite tools is the FAFSA Assistant from Discover Student Loans. The FAFSA Assistant asks a number of questions and generates a customized checklist to families are better prepared by the time they actually sit down to fill out the FAFSA.
- Social Security numbers for students and parents, or Alien Registration Numbers for non-U.S. citizens.
- Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID – create an FSA ID online, which gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems
- Driver’s license or other eligible government ID
- Tax returns for students and/or parents
- Asset records such as bank statements and investments
- Records of untaxed income, such as child support
- Federal school codes for the schools you will apply to, available at ed.gov
Gathering the documents you’ll need to complete the FAFSA could actually take more time than filling out the application. Okun says it only takes about 31 minutes, on average, to fill out the FAFSA.
The deadline to submit the 2018/2019 FAFSA is midnight Central Time on June 30, 2019, but don’t wait until the eleventh hour! Okun says states and colleges may have their own cutoff dates – for some, the deadline could be as early as October 2017. Also, financial aid at some schools is awarded on a first come, first served basis, so fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible.
Also, make sure you’re applying on the right site. The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov, and it is always free to complete the application. Some sites will help you fill out the form, but they charge a fee. If you are asked for your credit card information, you are on the wrong site.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.