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Federal Student Aid and the FAFSA

The U.S. Department of Education offers financial aid to qualified students. But where do you begin?

Whether you’re just starting your college credits or are returning after a break, knowing your financial aid options can help you determine the right path for paying for your education. These Department of Education resources can help you sort through all the information on federal financial aid:

  • Federal Student Aid – information on the types of federal financial aid available, qualifying and applying for financial aid, and managing student loans
  • Federal Student Aid at a Glance – information on the three categories of financial aid (grants, loans and work-study) with the latest information for the 2017-2018 school year
  • Aid for Military Families – funding sources specifically for military families through the federal government and nonprofit organizations

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid

To receive any type of federal financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, often referred to as the FAFSA. Once your FAFSA is evaluated, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR. Your SAR is what potential schools use to determine how much aid you are eligible to receive. Use the FAFSA website to update your eligibility and explore all options for federal student aid. Here are some tips for completing the FAFSA:

  • Pay attention to all deadlinesfederal, state and school. You can enter your state of legal residence and the school year for which you’re applying for student aid to view deadlines.
  • Apply early. It can take time for your FAFSA award to be processed.
  • Have your tax documents and military pay stubs available. You’ll need your military member’s pay stubs to verify his or her active-duty military status. If you have a home-based business, you’ll also need to report this information.
  • Complete your previous year’s tax returns before filling out your FAFSA. If this isn’t possible, estimate your tax figures and make corrections after you have filed.
  • Use the Federal School Code Search to search for colleges you want to include on your FAFSA. This search can also provide information on tuition, fees and graduation rates, and you can compare that information for up to 10 colleges at a time.
  • Know the FAFSA filing options. You can create an account and apply online, print and fill out a PDF FAFSA to mail for processing or request a paper FAFSA by calling 800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243) or 319-337-5665. For hearing impaired assistance, contact the TTY line at 800-730-8913.
  • Fill out your FAFSA entirely and accurately. Mistakes can cause a substantial delay in application processing time. The most common mistakes are errors in typing the social security number, changing the legal name but not updating documents and leaving questions and sections blank. Unless directed to leave a question or section blank, always input a zero when you do not have any other answer.
  • File an online application if possible. You can update and reuse the same form every year. In addition, you can transfer your tax information from the IRS directly into your FAFSA.

    You should receive your SAR anywhere from three days to three weeks after you have filed your FAFSA. Be sure to check your SAR to make sure there were no errors on your FAFSA. The SAR doesn’t tell you how much financial aid you’ll get, but if you applied for admission to an institution and have been accepted, and you listed that institution on your FAFSA, the institution will calculate your aid and send you an electronic or paper award letter telling you how much aid you qualify for.

    You can estimate your aid using the free FAFSA4caster. If you’re ready to start the federal student aid process, visit the FAFSA website to create an account and explore the benefits of federal student aid. You can also visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for local information on financial aid. Enter “Spouse Education, Training and Careers” under the Programs drop-down menu and your installation or postal code to find a point of contact.

    If additional information on financing your education, visit the Education Planning and Budgeting section of the Education, Training and Licensing lifecycle stage of MySECO, or speak to a career coach at 800-342-9647.

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