College-bound teen? Here’s what you need to know about the FAFSA

Three students studying on steps
OCCU  -  01.14.2019

Becoming a college student requires filling out a lot of forms. But there’s one form that rules them all — and filing it out is one of the most important things you can do to pay for your child’s education.

It’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — your gateway to the $120 billion in federal student grants, loans and work-study funds awarded to approximately 13 million students each year. Nearly all students who apply qualify for some amount of financial aid.

Filing a FAFSA is a critical step in the college application process and the sooner you turn it in, the better your chances of securing more funds. While the application period for the 2019-2020 school year started Oct. 1, the federal government will still accept submissions through June 30, 2020 — although colleges usually have much earlier deadlines for financial aid, so keep those in mind. Fortunately, recent changes to the application process are expected to make filing faster and easier for many families.

Still need to file?

If your student plans to start college in the fall and hasn’t yet filed a FAFSA, this should be the next step on your college to-do list.

To file the FAFSA, students and parents will each need to fill out forms. While the paper version has more than 100 questions, the online form is more streamlined, taking an average of 20 to 40 minutes to complete. With the launch of the new myStudentAid mobile app, families can now complete their applications on a smartphone or tablet, making the process more convenient. Students and parents can even start the form on one device and complete it on another.

Here’s what to do:

  • Start a financial aid folder and gather the documents you’ll need, which include proof of identity and tax records.
  • Create a FAFSA ID, which is required if you want to apply online for financial aid. Parents and students each need their own ID.
  • File the FAFSA as soon as you can.
  • Notify the financial aid offices of the schools receiving your FAFSA about any special circumstances, such as unusual medical expenses or unemployment, that aren’t reflected on the FAFSA.

What comes next?

Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, use the timeline below to keep your teen’s financial aid application on track.

January – March

  • Watch for your Student Aid Report, which should arrive within six weeks of filing your FAFSA. It will tell you how much your family is expected to contribute for college expenses. Look it over for errors and submit corrections, if needed.
  • If a college you’re applying to requires a CSS Profile, which determines eligibility for nonfederal financial aid, file it at least four weeks before the school’s financial aid deadline.
  • If one of the colleges receiving your FAFSA requests any additional forms or documentation, provide these as soon as possible.

April – June

  • As you receive financial aid award letters detailing how much aid each school will offer, compare them and contact the financial aid offices with any questions.
  • Decide which school to attend, and notify the others so they can redistribute your funds. You can choose to accept, reduce or decline each financial aid offer.

July – September

  • Complete the Master Promissory Note if you are taking a Federal Stafford Loan; it serves as a contract between you and your lender.
  • Notify the college financial aid office of any outside scholarships, grants or other forms of student aid you’ve received.

Once you know how much financial aid your student will receive, the next step is to estimate their college expenses and figure out if it’s enough. If your financial aid package doesn’t quite cover the cost, you may want to consider taking out a private student loan.

OCCU’s student loans allow students to borrow up to $15,000 a year with no loan origination or repayment fees. With a private student loan, you won’t need to make payments while your student is still in school, although the loan will still accrue interest. Once they’re no longer in school, you can take up to 10 years to pay it back. Our standard, interest-only, and fully deferred loans even offer an extra six-month grace period.

Paying for college is no small task. The sooner you file your FAFSA, the sooner you’ll know how far financial aid will stretch — and the more time you’ll have to seek alternate solutions such as private student loans.