Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2007 / 5 Shevat, 5767
College money is waiting; don't procrastinate
By Vicki Lee Parker
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) In a recent meeting, I mentioned that I was writing a column about FAFSAs and a collective groan came from around the table.
No doubt I had drudged up nightmarish memories of staying up half the night completing the long Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. It is a rite of passage for nearly every college student and parent.
The document is used to determine students' eligibility for federal and state college grants, scholarships and other financing. Although the deadline to file FAFSAs is July 2, the clock started ticking Jan. 1, the first day the U.S. Department of Education began accepting the form.
The good news is you can fill out the form online, speeding up filing. The bad news is that the form is still lengthy - 102 questions, to be exact. Experts estimate that it takes up to two hours to complete, and that's only if you are organized and have the necessary documents.
However long it takes, it's best not to procrastinate.
"The cost of missing a deadline can be measured in real dollars," said Martha Holler, a financial aid expert with Sallie Mae. "Some states have lots of free money, but if you apply after their deadline, you jeopardize your chance of getting some. And when it's gone, it's gone."
Federal funds such as the Pell Grant are available year-round, but you must beat deadlines.
The important thing is to complete the FAFSA form in time to meet the state's deadline, as well as the deadlines of the colleges where you are applying. Many have deadlines are in February, Holler said.
If you are wondering whether your income is too high to benefit from filing a FAFSA form, the answer is usually no, Holler said. "If you think you make too much money or have too many assets, Sallie Mae still recommends that you hedge your bets and ... fill out the form," she said.
Some assets are not considered in figuring financial need, such as the value of a home and retirement savings. "When all the details are run through, you might be surprised what you can get," she said.
Once the FAFSA form is complete, students are considered for a number of state and federal grant programs, as well as some low-interest loans.
Don't forget: Some schools require separate applications in addition to a FAFSA form.
If you haven't gotten started on the dreaded FAFSA, here's what you should do first.
Apply for a secure PIN number from the U.S. Department of Education to get access to a FAFSA application online. This can take a couple of days.
The FAFSA form will require information from your 2006 federal income tax return. If you haven't completed a return (most of us haven't even started it), you will have to estimate those numbers based on documents such as your last 2006 pay stub.
Once you complete and file your tax return, go online and update your FAFSA form.
You also will need your:
Get the form at fafsa.ed.gov or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (800) 433-3243 or CFNC at (866) 866-2362.
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Vicki Lee Parker is a columnist for The News & Observer. Comment by clicking here.
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