Thursday, February 7, 2019

Completing the FAFSA

Time is running out for graduating high school seniors who wish to receive college financial aid in the fall.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is still open for students to be able to receive college financial assistance for the 2019-20 school year. Local school officials encourage students to fill out the application as soon as possible to receive the greatest amount of financial help they can. 
When high school seniors and returning college students complete the application every year, they have access to over $150 billion financial aid in the form of grants, work-study and federal student loans, according to Sallie Mae officials. 
Sallie Mae is a publicly traded U.S. corporation that provides consumer banking.  
The sooner a student applies, the more likely they are to be awarded aid since most of the aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, officials said. Schools also use the application to assemble financial aid packages, states using it to determine eligibility for state aid and it’s required for many scholarship applications.    
“For high school seniors and returning college students, the time to start thinking about next school year is now,” Sallie Mae Senior Vice President Martha Holler said. “The simple act of completing the FAFSA can translate into thousands of dollars to pay for college, but it’s critical to start the process early so you don’t miss out.”
Lyndie Conner, Cleburne High School college & career readiness coordinator, said it’s absolutely imperative that students and parents apply for the FAFSA as close to the opening of the application, which is Oct. 1.
“Even if a student’s family can pay entirely out of pocket for a student’s post-secondary education, colleges are often asking students to complete FAFSA to be able to apply for any institutional aid,” Conner said. “Students should always be looking for opportunities to apply for scholarships. Scholarship opportunities exist for even our ninth- through 11th-grade students. If students receive more financial aid than they need for a college, the college will often give the excess money back to the student. 
“This means that students can actually get paid to go to college. A few of our graduates have been lucky enough to receive more money than they need for tuition, and they use the money to buy computers or so that they don’t have to work while taking classes.” 
When applying for the FAFSA, students and parents will need some paperwork, including any W-2s, Social Security numbers and 2017 income taxes for students applying for fall 2019 admissions. 
Students can always receive help with the application process and any other college applications at the Educational Opportunity Center, 218 S. Ridgeway Drive, in Cleburne, she said.   
Lizza Trenkle, Hill College student services vice president, said students won’t know if they qualify for aid unless they complete the FAFSA. 
“Not only is the FAFSA how you qualify for Pell grants, but it is also how you qualify and access the federal Direct Stafford Loan, which is the superior loan for students,” Trenkle said. “Parents also may be eligible for the Direct PLUS Loan for Parents.”
Scholarships represent free money, she said, making it easier for students to avoid taking out loans so they can graduate debt free.
“Additionally, some scholarships may be applied to expenses other than tuition, such as books and supplies,” she said. “The FAFSA process has become so much easier with students now able to access their tax information online and have it populate the FAFSA automatically. The most important information for students to have is their social security number and the social security numbers of the parent(s), who claim  them.” 
Sallie Mae officials give the following tips students and parents can follow to make it easier to receive financial aid for college: 
• Be first in line. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis or from programs with limited funds. The earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances of being in line for that aid. Additionally, those who complete and submit the FAFSA early will receive their Student Aid Report sooner and may receive financial aid award letters from schools earlier. 
• Bring the basics. Both parents and students should create a username and password — a Federal Student Aid ID — and gather social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, tax returns and W-2 forms. 
• Get connected. New this year, students and families can complete the FAFSA using the myStudentAid app on any Andriod or Apple device. Regardless of what device you use, remember that it’s always free, so watch out for sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Students can reduce the risk of identify theft by keeping their Federal Student Aid ID confidential and reporting any suspected fraudulent account activity immediately.
• Sync up. Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can expedite the process by automatically syncing and populating tax return information into the FAFSA. Note: The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is currenlty only available for those completing the FAFSA at fafsa.gov
• File every year. Complete the FAFSA as a high school senior and every year in college and graduate school. Filing a new FAFSA each year, starting in fall, is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and the amount of aid can vary year-over-year.
For information and tips, visit salliemae.com/fafsa.

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