Plan to go to college next year? You need to fill out the FAFSA now!

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Plan to go to college next year? You need to fill out the FAFSA now!
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If you’re planning on going to college in the fall of 2017, you need to start the financial aid process now!

Read more: Student Loan Guide: Everything from how much to borrow to paying it off!

What is the FAFSA and why is it so important?

If you need help paying for college, which most people do these days thanks to the increasing costs of higher education, the very first step to fill out a form called the FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The information in your FAFSA is what the government and schools use to determine your eligibility for financial aid.

Financial aid is money given to you to cover the cost of school — and it can come in the form of grants, work-study, student loans and even scholarships. Anyone applying to college can fill out the FAFSA — and every college-bound student should! It’s free and you never know how much aid you will qualify for — money that can end up saving you big bucks on the cost of your college degree!

How is the process changing?

For a long time, many people have avoided the financial aid process, for several reasons. One big one was that the entire process was a pain, plus it was somewhat intimidating for people unfamiliar with how it all works. 

Students typically apply to colleges in the fall, and until this year, they had to wait until January to apply for financial aid, because that’s when the FAFSA was available. So when the time came for students to find out where they’ve been accepted, they had no idea how much help they would get to pay for it. 

But the good news is that it’s now a lot easier for students and families to complete the financial aid process!

As of October 1, 2016, the FAFSA now requires parents’ tax information from the year before last, allowing students to complete the application process much earlier.

So for students applying to college for fall 2017, the FAFSA uses 2015 tax information. (Until this year, the FAFSA required tax information from the previous year, so for fall 2016 applicants, the form required 2015 tax info.)

Use the new tool available for getting all of your tax info!

Families also now have access to a new tool that retrieves their tax information directly from the IRS. And since the form requires tax data from the ‘prior prior year,’ all the information you need is already available. Plus, by using the tool, the Dept. of Education estimates the time needed to fill out a FAFSA form will decrease from one hour to about 20 minutes.

And the IRS will automatically fill out much of the application for you.

Read more: The dangers of co-signing a student loan

Why you should submit your application as soon as possible!

Many people overlook the importance of the FAFSA and the entire financial aid process — either because they don’t think they will qualify for aid or they just put it off as something they can do before the final deadline.

Bad idea! 

If you want to qualify for any type of aid, including grants and scholarships, you need to fill out and submit your FAFSA as soon as possible — for a couple of reasons.

First, when you’re trying to figure out how to pay for college, the sooner you know how much assistance you’re eligible for, the better! And while it’s a federal form, states and schools also use your FAFSA to determine how much financial aid you will get — and many of them distribute available money based a on first-come, first-served basis!

So the sooner you submit your application, the better your chances are of receiving aid. And the amount of money you get can make a huge difference in the cost of

Online FAFSA applications for the 2017-2018 school year must be submitted by the June 30, 2018, federal deadline. BUT — state deadlines vary. Here’s a list of FAFSA deadlines by state from the Consumerist.

Even if you don’t know where you want to go to college or aren’t even sure where you will apply, you can still list any potential schools on your FAFSA so those colleges/universities will receive your application and information.

Bottom line!

Every student should submit a FAFSA and should do it as soon as possible! You never know what type of aid or scholarship you may qualify for — and it could end up saving you big money!

So take a few minutes to sit down and complete the process! Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for aid, there’s no harm in trying!

How to get started!

The best and quickest way to complete the FAFSA is by filling out the form online. You can also fill out a paper version and submit it through the mail. But the Dept. of Education recommends that you do it online.

But before you can complete and sign the FAFSA documents, you have to get a federal student aid ID — called the FSA ID — which is used to confirm your identify during the application process. You can get more details on how it works and create your own FSA ID here.

The ID verification process can take up to three days, so the sooner you apply for one, the sooner you can complete the FAFSA!

For more on financial aid and each step of the process, check out the Federal Student Aid website.

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Alex Thomas Sadler About the author:
Alex is the Managing Editor of Clark.com and host of Common Cents, a series that makes money simple. By breaking down complicated concepts, Alex shows you how to better understand your money and make smarter decisions — so you can take control of your own life and future! Learn more here.
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