Which seemingly harmless collection of letters can send chills down the spines of college students across the country?
F-A-F-S-A — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
This form requires quite a bit of sensitive information, so completing it is a daunting prospect for many students and their parents.
But have no fear. Here are some tips for filling out the FAFSA faster than ever.
How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?
The answer depends on who you ask, but most people agree it takes between 30 minutes and one hour to fill out the FAFSA.
If you have all your documents ready — like your and your parents’ W2s, bank statements, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses — it’ll speed up the process significantly.
You also should grab last year’s tax returns, but in many cases, your tax information will be imported automatically through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Since the FAFSA now uses last year’s tax returns, you won’t have to estimate any tax information.
It’s wise to fill out the FAFSA as soon as it’s available: October 1 of the year before you need financial aid. Because schools have a limited amount of money, applying early could mean a bigger piece of the pie for you. It’ll also give you more time to negotiate your financial aid package.
How to fill out the FAFSA quickly
Ready to get started? Here are three tips for filling out the FAFSA more quickly.
1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID
You and your parent each will need to create an FSA ID. Don’t lose this number, as it’s difficult to retrieve.
It sometimes takes a while before you can use your FSA ID, so create yours a few days before you plan to complete the FAFSA.
2. Choose your schools
When you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to include the schools you’re applying to.
If you’re not sure yet, don’t panic. But you should brainstorm a list of up to 10 schools. You can add or remove them later.
And if you’re applying to any state schools, put them first on the list. If you don’t, you could miss out on state grants, according to Martha Holler, a Sallie Mae spokesperson quoted in Forbes.
3. Use a tool like FRANK
How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA? If you want the answer to be “not long at all,” try Frank — a free web tool that helps you fill out the FAFSA.
“We are really proud that the language and organization of the form is easy enough for an 18-year-old to file on their own in under five minutes,” said Stefanie Buffa, a customer care manager for the company.
Frank says it’s “everything the Department of Education is not” — “smart, transparent, and simple” — and in just a few months, it’s helped more than 60,000 families snag more than $1.5 billion in federal aid.
Its users seem to agree that it makes the process easier. On Facebook, its Verified Reviews tab shows a rating of 4.7 out of five.
Filling out the FAFSA doesn’t have to take hours. If you prepare and use the tips above, you’ll be applying for financial aid before you know it.
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