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It’s not too late to fill out the FAFSA: Here’s what you need to know

For many people, how to pay for a college education is one of the major financial decisions before deciding on a school.

There are many different ways to pay for college. Understanding your choices can help you make the right decision for your situation.

Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

A critical first step for many prospective students is to complete the FAFSA . FAFSA completion is an important part of the student aid process.

Note: Some states have extended their FAFSA deadlines . Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if their priority FAFSA deadline has been extended.

Why fill out the FAFSA?

Filling out the FAFSA is required if you want to apply for federal assistance, including grants, loans and work study. Your eligibility for need-based federal aid, such as Pell Grants and subsidized student loans is determined by your FAFSA submission.

In addition, states typically require students to complete the FAFSA to qualify for state grant programs, and most colleges and universities will not consider awarding any institutional aid, until the FAFSA has been submitted.

Even if you have not finalized your plans for this fall, consider filling out the 2020-2021 FAFSA sooner rather than later, many state and schools award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis and may have established earlier, “priority” deadlines. If you miss a key deadline to complete the FAFSA, you will limit your ability to qualify for state or institutional funding.

Here are some tips to help guide you through filling out the FAFSA.

1.  Know your deadlines.

If you have not already done so, complete the FAFSA form as soon as you can. It is important to have it filed and your financial aid secured before you begin school this fall.

2.  Have your information ready and available before you start.

Having basic information readily available before beginning the process will help you navigate through the FAFSA form. The information you provide through the FAFSA will allow the Department of Education to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) , which is used to determine your need in calculating your financial aid package. It is also used by many States and private organizations in awarding grants to students. Some key pieces of information you should have are:

  • Basic information about you (Social security number, date of birth)
  • Details about the schools you are interested in (school name, city, and state)
  • Your tax information
  • If applicable, your parents’ taxes and basic information (dependent students ) or your spouse’s taxes and basic information (independent students who are married).

The use of any tax information in filing the FAFSA does not impact an individual’s taxes.

3.  Know where to go if you need help filling out the FAFSA.

If you need help filling out the FAFSA form, the Department of Education offers free tools and assistance.

  • Throughout the FAFSA form, the Department of Education provides “tool tips” to guide you and provide additional information.
  • If you need further assistance, you can contact the Department of Education directly through the “Contact Us” feature on the FAFSA form or mobile app. Representatives are available in English and Spanish to answer your questions.
  • For further assistance, you can reach out to the financial aid office at the institution that you plan to attend.

Once you complete the steps above, you’re ready to submit your FAFSA form.

After submitting the form, here are a few things to think about next.

Know how much you plan to borrow

Before you finalize your plans for the upcoming school year, it’s good to have an idea of how much you will pay for your higher education expenses and how much you need to borrow. Compare the cost of different schools with our Paying for College tool.

If you’re considering taking out student loans to help pay for school, start with federal student loans. For many borrowers, federal student loans can be a better option because interest rates will generally be fixed. Federal student loans have other benefits that can save you money over the life of your loan, including loan forgiveness options.

Additionally, under the CARES Act, there are provisions for students who need additional financial assistance . Contact the schools you plan to attend to see if they have emergency grant funding for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus.

Continue to search for grants and scholarships

Be sure to take advantage of any scholarships and grants before applying for a federal loan. Grants and scholarships are types of financial aid that often don’t have to be repaid. Grants are generally need-based, while scholarships are usually merit-based. You can use one of the many free scholarship search options available to look for scholarships and state and local grants . Do your research and apply by the deadlines. If you miss a scholarship deadline, check to see if you can reapply at a later date.

If you’re looking for more information about paying for college, sign up here to receive updates and resources.

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