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Filing FAFSA a critical step for college-bound students

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind — USA Funds, the nation’s leading education loan guarantor, advises high school seniors and others planning to attend college during the 2009-2010 academic year to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to qualify for the broadest array of financial aid opportunities.

“The federal government is the largest source of student financial aid,” said Carl C. Dalstrom, USA Funds president and CEO, “and submitting the FAFSA is key to unlocking not only federal grants, work-study and loan opportunities, but also many state and campus-based financial aid options.”

USA Funds offers the following advice for filing the FAFSA.

Both incoming and current college students need to file the FAFSA annually to establish eligibility for student loan programs, grants and other financial aid.

Both incoming and current college students need to file the FAFSA annually to establish eligibility for student loan programs, grants and other financial aid.

Meet deadlines. To maximize a student’s eligibility for all forms of financial aid, the FAFSA must be filed by deadlines set by state scholarship organizations and by individual colleges, universities and career colleges. The state deadlines are listed on the paper FAFSA and under “Check Application Deadline Dates” on the online form at . Students should check with the postsecondary institutions they plan to attend about any school-specific FAFSA deadlines.

Gather your paperwork. Students who are 24 years or older, married, have dependents, are pursuing graduate or professional degrees, are on active duty in the military, or are veterans of military service must provide only their own financial information on the FAFSA. All others generally must also provide their parents’ financial information. The FAFSA requests information from 2008 W-2 forms, 2008 federal income tax returns, as well as from other sources of information about income, assets and benefit payments. Completing the FAFSA is much easier if students and parents already have completed their 2008 federal income tax returns, but those who have not yet finished their tax forms can provide estimated information on the FAFSA and later correct it with actual tax return information. To file the FAFSA online, students and parents first must obtain a personal identification number from .

Accuracy matters. Inaccurate information on the FAFSA may delay processing, which could prevent the student from meeting deadlines for financial aid opportunities. Students and parents should make sure that the Social Security numbers they provide on the FAFSA are accurate. Providing the most accurate information about the students’ and parents’ finances is important because, in many cases, students and parents will be asked to verify the information they supply. The online version of the FAFSA at has built-in edits that can help minimize errors.

Get help. With more than 100 questions, the FAFSA can pose a daunting paperwork challenge to families of college-bound students, but there are many sources of free help for completing the form. Financial aid professionals in many states offer free help sessions generally in late January or February as part of College Goal Sunday. For a listing of state College Goal Sunday programs, visit . USA Funds supports College Goal Sunday programs in eight states. Local college access programs and college planning centers also may offer free FAFSA help, as may the financial aid office of the school the student plans to attend. The online FAFSA at offers extensive help and contacts for answers to questions about completing the form.

“Student financial aid programs are especially important today because family incomes and college savings have been reduced as a result of the slump in the economy,” Dalstrom said. “Filing the FAFSA is a vital step in paying for college.”

Headquartered in Indianapolis, USA Funds is a nonprofit corporation that works to enhance postsecondary education preparedness, access and success by providing and supporting financial and other valued services.

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