After last week’s suggestion that you do your own taxes, you’re pretty fed up with the idea of all this paperwork, aren’t you? But to be honest, the reason I suggested you do your own taxes was to also get you to do your FAFSA. I actually think doing your own FAFSA in college is more important, so if you only do one… make it this one.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form that most college students and potential college students have to fill out to get federal aid. Even if you don’t qualify for federal aid, some schools (including mine, RIT) require you to fill out the form in order to qualify for any aid from the school. So, it’s big bananas.
The form is fairly easy, and is usually done online at FAFSA.ed.gov. Be sure to use that site, because others may actually be scams to get your personal information. You should never pay money to fill out the FAFSA – if a form asks you for a credit card number, it’s a fake.
The FAFSA requires information from your taxes (if you were required to file), your parents’ taxes, and some additional information about how much money you have/make, how many siblings you have… it gets kind of extensive, but it shouldn’t take you more than an hour to fill out, if you gather all the materials together first.
You don’t necessarily need your current taxes to do the FAFSA. That is, if you’re filling out the FAFSA for the 2009-10 school year, it asks for either your 2008 taxes, or you can estimate based on your 2007 taxes. Estimating based on year-old taxes is fine, as long as your situation hasn’t changed much. If you and your parents have the same jobs at last year (or the same lack-thereof) and you haven’t won the lottery or received an inheritance, then you’re probably fine.
Why Should I Do My Own FAFSA?
Just like doing your own taxes is beneficial for your financial health, the FAFSA gives you a clear picture of your financial situation and how it plays into your college costs.
I’ve been doing my own FAFSA since my senior year of high school. I told my mom that I would need to do it, and she handed me her taxes and told me to ask my older sister if I had any questions. Doing my own FAFSA every year has given me a keen sense of what it takes to pay for college, and what the government expects of college students and (if they’re dependent), they’re parents.
What if your parents don’t want you to do your own FAFSA? It’s true, some parents are leery of handing their tax documents over to their young-adult children. Maybe they don’t want you to know how much they make, or they just want to be cautious for some other reason. In that case, compromise with them – do the "student" half of your FAFSA and hand over the keyboard when you get to the parent portion. It’s important that you at least have some hand in the process.
What if your parents refuse to do the FAFSA at all? Yeah, this happens. Some people just don’t want to give their financial information to the government – even though the government already has most of it, since the vast majority of FAFSA information comes from your tax forms. Or maybe they’re trying to prevent you from going to a certain college…. or from going to college at all.
If this happens to you… I don’t know what to tell you. At that point, it might be worth it to save up some of your own money, get a lawyer, and get legally emancipated from your parents. If you’re considered a dependent by the FAFSA (basically any under the age of 23), you will need your parents info to fill out the FAFSA. Use this dependency worksheet to double-check.
The other thing you could try is talking directly to your school’s financial aid counselor – they might be able to help you if you’re having difficulty getting information from your parents, but that depends on the policies of your college.
When Should I Fill Out The FAFSA?
My rule of thumb is: as soon as I have my tax forms and my mom’s tax forms in my pretty little hands. Many schools, mine included, give out more aid to the people who file for aid first each year. So, the sooner the better!
Green Panda Treehouse has an excellent list of the deadlines for the FAFSA by state for the 2009-2010 school year. There’s some crazy variation – some states have early deadlines as early as February 15, 2009, while others will give you until May of 2010. So make sure you check the timing for your state!
P.S. I hate the FAFSA. I think it’s a broken system, and is in need of some major reform. Some kids get more aid from the FAFSA just because they’ve got gay parents (seriously), and some poor kids get nothing because of a technicality, and if your parents are rich but refuse to pay for you? The FAFSA doesn’t take many things like this into account. But, it’s the form we’ve got (for now), so make sure you fill it out.