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    Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA

    Info, tips, and advice on how to file

    Jill DePasquale

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    facts about the FAFSAA college education is one of the most valuable investments you'll make. But as you venture out on your college search and catch a glimpse of the price tag, you might become intimidated, to say the least. (Sticker shock, anyone?) Make no mistake about it: college is expensive.

    Fortunately, more than half of U.S. undergraduates receive some form of federal financial aid. And the first step to claiming those dollars for college is the FAFSA.

    What's a FAFSA?

    FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Federal Student Aid is an office of the U.S. Department of Education, and it provides the greatest amount of student financial aid in America. According to studentaid.ed.gov, each year the federal government awards more than $150 billion in federal grants, low-interest loans, and work-study funds to help millions of students pay for college.

    The FAFSA form can be prepared annually by current and prospective college students in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid. The FAFSA consists of numerous questions regarding the assets, income, and dependency of a student and his or her family. These responses are then entered into a formula that determines the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges use this number to determine how much financial aid a student is qualified to receive.

    Who Should Fill Out a FAFSA?

    In short, the FAFSA is your key to unlocking money for your college education. The U.S. Department of Education uses the FAFSA to determine students' eligibility for federal student aid. Many state governments and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid, such as state aid programs and institutional aid.

    FAFSA Deadlines

    To be considered for federal student aid for the 2015—2016 award year, complete the FAFSA form sometime between January 1, 2015, and midnight Central Time on June 30, 2016. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time on September 19, 2016. However, many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. Find your state's deadline at https://fafsa.gov deadlines. And be sure to check with your chosen college(s) about their deadlines.

    Tips for Completing the FAFSA

    First Things First

    • The U.S. Department of Education advises students to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), available on the Help page of the FAFSA web site (https://fafsa.gov/help.htm). This tool will retrieve most of the student's tax information directly from the IRS and input it into his or her FAFSA. The DRT may be used for students and parents alike.
    • Read the instructions and follow them carefully—even if you previously completed the FAFSA form. Sometimes revisions are made to earlier versions.

    Facts and Figures

    A step-by-step guide to help you kick off your money search.