If you plan to attend college next year, experts say you may want to fill out the FAFSA application as close to the opening date as possible.

WASHINGTON – Free application for federal student aid the application season for the 2023-2024 school year begins on October 1. If you plan to attend college next year, experts say you may want to fill out the FAFSA application as close to the opening date as possible.

Many institutions provide financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Karen McCarthy, Vice President for Public Policy and Federal Affairs National Association of Student Financial Aid Administratorsencourages students to begin.

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“It’s a good idea to do it early,” McCarthy said. “Whenever (colleges) run out of money, that’s all the funding they have for the year.”

Whether you’re applying for the first time or the fifth time, here are some tips and resources to help you complete the process and get financial aid for your college career.

How does the FAFSA work?

The FAFSA is a free government application that uses your financial information and your family to determine if you can get financial aid from the federal government to pay for college.

The FAFSA will send your financial information to the schools listed on the application that you want to attend – up to 10 schools. Each school that accepts you will send you a financial aid package. The amount of financial aid you receive depends on each institution.

This application is also used to determine eligibility for other federal student aid programs, such as work-study and loans, as well as state and school aid. Sometimes private merit-based scholarships also require FAFSA information to determine if you qualify for their specific aid.

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“Completing the FAFSA is probably the single most important thing you can do to get in line for scholarships, grants and other federal financial aid for college,” said Rick Castellanos, vice president of corporate communications for Sallie Mae.

Nitro College, a website offering advice for college students, has step by step guide a list of all questions on the FAFSA.

Who must fill out the FAFSA?

Anyone planning to go to college next year. Many choose not to apply, thinking their family income is too high to be considered, but McCarthy encourages all students to complete an application.

“There is no obligation, no payment,” McCarthy said. “Watch what happens, you might be surprised. And if not, you have it on file in case you change your mind.”

Students and parents can use federal student aid evaluator to get an early approximation of their financial package.

How do I fill out the FAFSA?

The first step is to create FSA ID to help you log into your account electronically. If you are a dependent student, your parents will also need to create an account.

Before you start applying, McCarthy recommends using a permanent personal email that is “accessible to you and that you check regularly.”

Here are the documents you will need to complete the FAFSA application:

  • Your social security number
  • Your driver’s license number, if you have one
  • Your alien registration number if you are not a US citizen
  • Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money you earn.
  • Your bank statements and investment records.
  • Your income is tax-free.

The application offers the ability to obtain information about your federal tax return from IRS Data Lookup Tool.

McCarthy also recommends that students use their physical Social Security card when filling out the application, not just to make sure they’re using the correct number. but double check their name.

“It’s much easier to avoid the problem in the first place,” McCarthy said. Some students who use their middle name in everyday life make the mistake of listing it as their first name on the application, she said. This causes issues with the app that will need to be resolved.

When should I fill out the FAFSA for Fall 2023-2024?

Meeting the deadlines is important so that you don’t lose any possible financial aid you may be eligible for. In addition to the federal deadline, students should know if their state has a financial aid deadline.

The 2023-2024 FAFSA application opens on October 1 and is due by June 30, 2024.

Each state has different financial aid deadlines. For example, California has a March 2, 2023 deadline for state financial aid programs, and Florida has a May 15, 2023 deadline.

You can check your state’s deadline here.

Do I need to renew my FAFSA?

The FAFSA must be completed each year you plan to attend college. However, it’s usually easier to navigate the process once you’ve done it once.

“I feel a lot faster every year,” said Haley Campbell Garcia, 28, who first filled out the FAFSA in 2013 and has filled it out every year since for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

If you renew the applicationsome information is already pre-populated, but tax information and other items need to be updated.

What information is required from parents for the FAFSA?

If you are applying as a dependent student, you will need to provide financial information from at least one parent. If you’re filing for both parents, you need to know how they filed their tax return — joint or separate — and their official marital status, McCarthy said.

“It seems like it should be obvious, but sometimes people don’t necessarily know if their parents are separated or divorced,” McCarthy said. Parents’ official marital status can be found by looking at their tax return.

Parents need to create their own FSA IDs. When your parents fill out the application, they can manually enter their tax return information or use the IRS data search tool.

Parents will need the following information to complete the FAFSA:

  • Social Security number or alien registration number (if they are not US citizens).
  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other records of money earned.

If a student is applying for the 2023-2024 school year, parents should use information from their 2021 federal tax return.

If you have questions about income, you can call the federal student aid office at 1-800-433-3243.

What if my parents are not citizens?

Your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for student aid. The app does not ask for your parents’ legal status in the country.

If your parents do not have a Social Security number, students must enter all zeros on the application. Additionally, parents without a Social Security number will not need to create an FSA ID number, but will need to sign the application by printing and mailing it to the financial aid office in order for the student’s application to be processed.

For more information on non-citizen parents, you can visit studentaid.gov.

How do I talk to my parents about the FAFSA?

Whether you’re a first-generation college student or your parents are immigrants, having to explain the FAFSA to them can be a daunting task.

Jessica Sansaran, a 25-year-old Orlando resident, approached the challenge by reading FAFSA guides to her parents and sharing her frustrations with the process.

“I told them, ‘You know, it’s hard for me too,'” said Sansaran, whose parents are from Guyana.

21-year-old Anastasia Aterna approached this process in a similar way.

“I would just ask my parents for all the tax documents, wait for them to find them, and then just ask them the questions myself instead of making them go through the application,” said Aserno, who graduated from the University at Albany.

What if my financial situation has changed since 2021?

If your (or your family’s) the financial situation has changed dramatically, you need to contact the specific institution you plan to attend. Each college handles special circumstances differently, McCarthy said.

When will I receive my FAFSA financial aid package?

According to the FAFSA, applications take three to five days to process student aid website. However, the timing of receiving your financial aid package will depend on your institution. Students typically receive their financial aid package shortly after an offer of admission.

What if I made a mistake on the FAFSA?

If you did a error when filling out the application, you need to correct the FAFSA form. You can do this by signing in with your FSA ID, go to the “My FAFSA” page and select “make corrections”.

In some cases, if changes cannot be made through the FAFSA portal, students will need to contact their institution’s financial aid office to make corrections.

What if I don’t get enough financial aid?

If the financial aid package from the college you plan to attend won’t cover the cost of your college education, there are alternatives.

You may want to consider scholarships that can help lower the cost of college or student loans. There are two types of student loans: federal and private. Federal student loans usually offer lower interest rates than private loans.

Where can I find more help with the FAFSA?

Much information about the FAFSA can be found at studentaid.gov but if you have more specific questions, you can contact your institution’s financial aid office.

From completing basic questions to better understanding your financial aid package, your college or community college’s financial aid office can help.

In Yvette Solano’s case, she sought help from someone in the financial aid office who spoke Spanish.

“I was comfortable asking questions and understanding information,” said Solano, 25, who attended San Diego City College and graduated from Cal in Los Angeles this summer. “You shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help.”

McCarthy also recommends looking for college admissions organizations that help complete the FAFSA for free.

Students or parents can also call, email or chat with Federal Student Aid Information Center.