💲 There is a huge change to the FAFSA filing date this year

💲 When filling out the form, be sure to include all non-retirement assets

💲 Always fill out the form, even if you don't think you qualify

Filling out the FAFSA form: It can be a daunting and confusing task for new parents of college-bound freshmen. But following a few simple steps can help make this experience a little less painful.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is the free application for federal student aid that is used by every college in the country to apply for federal financial aid, and then the colleges use it for their own financial aid that they provide as well, said John Tillman, President of Ecliptic Financial Advisors, Route 35 in Sea Girt.

Happy Graduating Mixed Race Woman In Cap and Gown Celebrating on Campus.

When is the FAFSA filing date?

Typically, parents of college students would prepare their paperwork now so they can file the FAFSA in October.

But Tillman said that in 2021, a FAFSA Simplification Act was approved, and those changes go into effect when filing this year for the 2024-2025 award year. That means there is a massive change to the student aid program.

“As a result, it’s taking a little bit longer for the federal government to get the FAFSA form ready, so they’re anticipating that it’s not going to be ready until December of this year. However, the following year, it will return to the October 1st date,” Tillman said.

No filing date has been announced yet but Tillman said that when it is announced, it’s always best to fill out the FAFSA early because aid is awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Also, keep in mind that the FAFSA is not a one-time filing deal. Tillman said the FAFSA must be filled out every year the student is in college to reapply for financial aid.

The FAFSA form is available here.

Saving for education

Should students apply to college before filing the FAFSA?

They are two separate processes, Tillman said. Students will fill out college applications based on the dates that the colleges they’re applying to want those applications by.

Financial aid is a separate process that’s also based on when the school wants various forms. But, for the FAFSA form, that will get done sometime in December, he added.

What documents are needed to fill out the FAFSA?

Tillman said it’s very important to have a list of your assets.

“Then you’re going to connect the FAFSA that you’re filing to your filed federal tax return. That information on your income will be brought over automatically, and then you’ll have to list your values of things like your savings accounts, your investment accounts, basically all of your non-retirement assets,” Tillman said.

Financial planning (Ecliptic Financial Advisors)
Financial planning (Ecliptic Financial Advisors)

What are some common rookie mistakes when filling out the FAFSA?

The goal is to get as much financial aid as possible for your child's education.

So, the  biggest rookie mistake is including assets on the form that don’t actually belong on the form, Tillman said. For example, retirement assets do not get listed on the form.

Another big mistake is not double-checking the form after it’s filled out. Tillman said to be very careful, take your time, and make sure everything is filled out correctly. Make sure balances are filled out correctly, and dates of birth and social security numbers are correct.

Be sure to list all the colleges that you want the form sent to and you don’t accidentally leave anybody off, he said.


What can disqualify someone from the FAFSA?

Nobody is really disqualified, said Tillman, but the need-based aid that is given out by the federal government is based on an income and asset formula that the federal government uses.

“At some point, you won’t qualify for need-based aid based on income, but you may qualify for other aid programs that the schools give out, so you always want to fill it out, no matter what your situation is,” Tillman said.

Even if you think you make a lot of money and there’s no way you would qualify for financial aid, Tillman said fill out the form.

Not all aid is based on income and assets. Many schools have merit-based aid which is given out based on the student’s academic performance. A lot of schools want you to fill out the FAFSA to apply for merit-based aid, as well, he added.

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Can college kids fill out FAFSA forms for graduate school?

If a student is graduating college, and planning to attend graduate school or places like veterinarian and dental school programs, this can be quite expensive.
But there is a FAFSA form for them, too.

“They would fill it out as an independent student so they no longer have to have their parents fill out the form. They’re going to fill out the form at that point,” Tillman said.

What is the big takeaway?

Tillman said the big things to remember when filling out the FAFSA is to fill it out early and send it out way ahead of the deadline so the chances of aid awarded are greater. Be careful. Take your time. Double-check that everything is correct.

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