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Tackling the FAFSA

Your ticket to college financial aid, student loans and scholarships


Mother and daughter using laptop together at home
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The online Free Application for Federal Student Aid - is your child’s ticket to a variety of forms of financial aid, including scholarships, PELL grants and student loans. January and February are FAFSA season for high school seniors and also for families with kids in already in college. The paperwork has to be done every year.

Filling out this financial paperwork is a pain - there's no doubt about that - but with a little prep work you can get through it in an evening. And it’s the kind of paperwork you do not want to delay, especially in the current economic climate. Think your child won’t be eligible? Or that your kid only needs to apply to his college for financial aid? Your child’s college scholarships and the FAFSA are joined at the hip - all your family's financial information goes into this central clearinghouse, and colleges pull the data they need from there, including the information they need for non-financial needs based aid. No FAFSA? No money. (Other scholarship misconceptions? Check out this article debunking 8 of the most common myths.)

There are three things you should do immediately, before you even tackle the FAFSA.

  • First, get a personal identification number from the Department of Education. This PIN serves as your electronic signature on the FAFSA application, so both you and your child will each need one. The Department of Education web site walks you through each click, and e-mails you the magic numbers. Put them somewhere safe, as you will use them and re-use them every winter for the next four years.


  • If this financial aid application is for your son and he's 18 years or older, make sure he has registered with the Selective Service. It’s the law - and it’s also a requirement for federal student loans. (Need more information? Click here for frequently asked questions about the Selective Service.)


  • It’s easiest to do the FAFSA paperwork if you have already completed your federal taxes - and those of your child - for last year. Haven't done them yet? Then assemble all the paperwork - W2s, additional income receipts, etc. - so you can grab the numbers you need.

Ready to start the actual FAFSA process? This link will take you directly to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid web site where you can register and begin filling in paperwork with your child. Need help? Click here for handy tips on completing the paperwork, including the best - and OK, slightly bizarre - advice for filling in forms.

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