If you will need some help paying for college, you are not alone. Most famililes these days need some sort of financial assistance in order to meet college education costs.
The number one way to make sure you get aid you qualify for is to file the FAFSA by your school's deadline. Missing financial aid deadlines could cost you thousands of dollars in grants, scholarships and loan subsidies, so you don't want to make that mistake.
If you are one of the many people who aren't sure how to approach these daunting forms, know that free help is available. For example, Rhode Island residents can make an appointment with RISLA's College Planning Center of Rhode Island to get free assistance completing their FAFSA or CSS Profile form. The FAFSA is used by all schools to award federal finanial aid. If you don't submit it, you will not be able to receive Pell Grants, subsidized Stafford loans, or federal work-study funds - even if your financial circumstances would otherwise qualify you.
The good news is that the FAFSA has become easier to complete over the past few years, due to some changes made by the Department of Education. For example, you can now use the IRS data retrieval tool to help fill in some of the blanks. The new online form also incorporates skip logic - logic that allows you to skip questions not relevant to you or your family based on answers to previous questions.
When completing the FAFSA, whether with assistance or not - keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t miss deadlines. This is a common mistake. In addition to your
school deadlines, most states require you to file by a specific deadline in order to qualify for the state grant.You must submit your FAFSA by
March 1 in order to qualify for a Rhode Island State Grant.
- Don’t include your retirement savings in your assets. The federal government does not expect your family to cash out its 401(k), 403(b) or other qualified retirement savings accounts to pay for your child’s education. However, while you will exclude these numbers from your assets, you will need to report the amount you contribute to your retirement annually as untaxable income on the FAFSA.
- In cases of divorce... The FAFSA requires that the parent who has
taken care of the child for more than half the year file the FAFSA. If one parent earns less than the other or has substantially less assets, it may be advantageous for the student to live with that parent for the majority of the year. However, keep in mind if you are re-married, your spouses income will also be considered on the FAFSA.
Remember, the FAFSA is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid and you should not have to pay money to apply for federal financial aid.