5 Ways to Make the FAFSA Application Process Less Stressful

by Ashley Eneriz

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. Any eligible student can apply—regardless of age, income, or nationality. It can also seem daunting for first-time applicants especially. But while the process might seem overwhelming at first, these five tips will help you and your child get the most out of the FAFSA application.

1. Start Immediately

Each school has a limited amount of award money, making it first-come, first-served. File too late, and you can miss out on valuable aid. The 2018-19 FAFSA opened October 1. The sooner the application is submitted, the better the chances are for free aid and federal loan eligibility. (Be sure to use APU's School Code when completing the application: 001117.)

2. Assess Money Before Applying

Have family members that want to give your child a hefty check upon high school graduation? Kindly instruct them to direct any funds to your account or a 529 account that is controlled by a parent for tax purposes. As Time Magazine points out, the FAFSA calculates that students should spend 20 percent of their assets on college, while parents are only expected to spend 5.64 percent of their assets on a child's schooling. Transferring any of the student's money into the parent's control before applying could help applicants qualify for more aid.

3. Don't Assume You Won't Qualify

Feel like you make too much money to qualify for free aid? Think again. Many different factors are taken into account when the application is reviewed, such as your family size or child's year in school. Even if applicants do not receive assistance for school, filling out the FAFSA might make them eligible for federal student loans or work study jobs. Funding a college education with a federal student loan will give your child more flexible repayment options after graduation than a private student loan can. Apply every year of college, even if your child did not receive any aid the year before.

Similarly, don't assume like your child won't qualify for aid due to less than stellar grades. Through the FAFSA, applicants can qualify for merit-based awards—awards that look at a student's grades and achievements. The majority of the awards granted, however, do not look at a student's academic performance. So, even if your child's grades aren't as high as you hoped, fill out the FAFSA application. Once enrolled in college and receiving student aid, your child will need to maintain a certain grade point average as set by the school.

4. Get Family Matters Right

As you might expect, it is important to avoid errors when filing the FAFSA, since it can limit how much aid your family will be eligible for. Include both you and your spouse's income when filling out the application, unless you are legally separated or divorced. In the case of separation or divorce, list the custodial parent's income and assets on the FAFSA form. If the custodial parent remarries, then the new spouse must be included on the FAFSA form. Finally, if the child's legal parents (either biological and adoptive) are not married but live together, you will both be required to list your income and asset information.

5. Speed Up the Process

The application process is a lengthy one, but worth it. To speed up the process, HomeRoom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education, recommends having the following documents easily accessible:

  • Student FSA ID and pin number (parents need one too)
  • Student's social security number
  • Student's driver's license
  • Student's prior year tax information (if filed)
  • Parents' prior year tax information (you must use the prior year's tax information, even if your current income is dramatically different)
  • Record of untaxed income, such as child support or veteran non-education benefits
  • Record of assets, including bank account balances, stocks, bonds, and real estate investments other than the home you reside in
  • List of schools your student is applying to and is interested in attending

After completing the FAFSA application, your child will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR). Look over the SAR carefully and correct any mistakes, since a mistake can delay the application process. Once the FAFSA application is processed, the chosen school will direct you on how much aid your child received, how to apply it to educational costs, and how to accept any loan money offered.