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mini graduation cap on rolled up cashFinancial aid season is about to begin.

Starting October 1, parents whose children will be in college for the 2019-2020 academic year will be able to fill out financial aid applications.

That means parents can complete these forms nearly one year before their children enroll.

Here are six facts you should know about applying for financial aid.

No. 1:  The biggest financial aid form is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA, which roughly 20 million people tackle each year.

Students cannot qualify for federal or state aid (grants and government loans) without completing this federal application. The vast majority of public and private colleges also use the FAFSA to determine which students will qualify for their own in-house financial assistance.

No. 2:  Some families will have to also complete a second financial aid document called the CSS Profile. Roughly 200 private colleges use the Profile, which is a creature of the College Board, to determine who is eligible for their own need-based money. A handful of state schools including the University of Michigan and University of Virginia, also use the Profile.

These colleges and universities like the Profile because it delves deeper into a family’s finances to determine aid eligibility.

Some parents are confused about why they would have to complete two aid forms. Here’s why:  Profile schools still use the FAFSA to determine federal and state aid eligibility for their applicants.

No. 3:  Both the FAFSA and Profile recently began accepting two-year-old tax returns from parents filling out the forms. Using these older tax forms eliminated the need for parents to rush to file taxes before applying for aid. Previously they were under the gun to complete their most current tax return before applying for assistance. 

No. 4:  Colleges have their own filing deadlines for both the FAFSA and the Profile. Students need to know when the deadlines are for each school on their list.

There is no reason why families shouldn’t file their financial aid applications early. In fact, research indicates that students receive more than twice as much grant aid from state programs and public universities if they apply early.

No. 5:  As its name suggests, the FAFSA is free. The College Board, however, charges $25 to complete the application and send the report to one college. Reports to additional colleges cost $16 a piece.

No. 6:   A good way to prepare for the FAFSA is to download the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. The U.S. Department of Education also maintains a FAFSA hotline (800) 4-FED-AID for families with questions.

Parents who need help with the Profile can call (844) 202-0524.

 

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