WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Incoming and returning college students seeking financial aid are urged to ring in the New Year filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The 2016-17 FAFSA, the crucial component to financial assistance for higher education, will go live after midnight Friday CST. Submitting the application early gives aid providers ample time to review applications and gives students an edge for awards made on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Department of Education says the FAFSA takes about 30 minutes to fill out and provides a direct link to federal and state grants, loans and work-study programs. The form, which must be filled out annually, includes estimated tax information if the most current information is not available. The amount of aid is calculated by subtracting the cost of attendance for individual schools from the expected family contribution, or EFC.
The Department of Education urges all applicants to have several items handy when tackling the application:
-- FSA ID: This username and password is used to confirm applicants' identity and serves as a legal signature. It can be created online.
-- Social Security number: Those who are not a U.S. citizen but meet the basic eligibility requirements can use their Alien Registration Number.
-- Driver's license number: Students without a license can skip this step.
-- Tax records: For the 2016-17 FAFSA, applicants must use their 2015 tax records. Those who have not submitted the current year's taxes can use estimates based on 2014 returns. The information must be updated once taxes are submitted.
-- Records of untaxed income: This is based on individual circumstances and may include child support, interest income and veterans non-education benefits.
-- Records of all assets: This includes real estate, checking and savings accounts, and financial investments.
-- List of possible schools: Applicants can list up to 10 schools in the FAFSA. Be sure to include all school choices even if you haven't applied or received an acceptance letter.
This is the last year the FAFSA will open in January. Beginning in 2016, the application will go live in October, giving colleges more time to make financial aid considerations and families a chance to mitigate steep college costs. It comes at a time the United States is grappling with an estimated $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. Of that, about $103 billion is in default.