If you’re planning to go to college, how you’re going to pay for it likely is a major concern.
Luckily, federal financial aid can help make school more affordable. In order to receive it, however, you first need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Unfortunately, many people skip the FAFSA. According to the National College Access Network, only 61% of high school seniors complete the FAFSA by graduation. That’s a costly mistake. You could lose out on thousands of dollars in student aid if you don’t fill out the FAFSA.
There are many myths about the FAFSA that prevent people from completing it. Here are 10 of the biggest as well as what you need to know about the application.
1. My parents make too much money for me to qualify for aid
Many families skip the FAFSA because they assume they make too much money to qualify for federal financial aid.
But there’s actually no income cutoff. The government takes into account several factors when determining your financial aid, including your family size and income and the cost of your school.
Even if you don’t qualify for federal grants, you could qualify for federal student loans. Federal loans usually are better than private loans because they have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options.
2. The FAFSA is only for federal student aid
The federal government isn’t the only entity that uses the FAFSA to determine your financial aid options.
Your state government and your school also use it to decide if you’re eligible for grants and scholarships, even those that are based solely on merit.
If you skip the FAFSA, you might miss out on valuable aid.
3. The FAFSA is due in June
This myth is partially true. The federal deadline for the FAFSA is the end of June each year.
However, states and schools often have different FAFSA deadlines. Some can be much earlier. For example, if you live in Connecticut, your state deadline is Feb. 15.
4. I should wait until I receive an acceptance letter to fill out the FAFSA
Again, the earlier you submit your FAFSA, the better. Some financial aid is disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis, so getting your application in early ensures you get the most aid possible.
If you’re not sure where you’re going to go to school, that’s OK. Just list every school you’re considering on the FAFSA.
5. The FAFSA has an application fee
The FAFSA is free for everyone. There are no application or submission fees.
6. I can’t complete the FAFSA until I file my taxes
You don’t have to wait until your taxes are done to complete the FAFSA.
For the 2019-2020 school year, you can start filling out the FAFSA on Oct. 1, 2018. You can complete the FAFSA with last year’s tax information.
7. I don’t have to report income from a part-time job
One of the biggest myths is that students don’t have to report income from a part-time job, whether it’s a summer or on-campus gig.
However, that’s incorrect. If you receive a paycheck, you need to report that money on the FAFSA. The federal government takes it into account when determining your financial aid options.
Keep in mind that deliberately filling out the FAFSA incorrectly is a serious offense. If you receive federal aid based on false information, you’ll have to pay it back along with fines as high as $20,000. Plus, you could be sent to prison.
8. Only students with good grades get financial aid
Schools and private organizations often look at your grades when determining whether to offer you an academic scholarship. The government works differently.
To be eligible for federal financial aid, you have to show that you’re making sufficient progress toward completing your degree. However, you can do that with passing grades. You can qualify for federal grants and loans even if you’re a less-than-stellar student.
9. I need to complete the FAFSA only once
The first time you complete the FAFSA, you’ll likely be a high school senior filling it out for the upcoming school year. However, that doesn’t mean you’re done with the FAFSA once you submit it.
To qualify for federal financial aid throughout college, you need to submit a new FAFSA every year. If your information hasn’t changed, you can submit a renewal FAFSA, which populates the form with the prior year’s information, making it simpler and faster to complete.
10. If I don’t get enough aid, I’m out of luck
In some cases, you might not get enough federal financial aid to cover your school’s total cost of attendance. If that’s the case, you might feel helpless and wonder if your college career is coming to an end.
However, there are ways to fill the gap. One option is to apply for a private student loan. Private loans tend to have higher interest rates and fewer benefits than federal loans, but they can be a useful tool to pay for school if you’ve exhausted your other options.
If you decide to take out a student loan, compare offers from private lenders to ensure you get the lowest interest rate possible.
Get started submitting your FAFSA
Filling out and submitting your FAFSA is an important step toward going to college.
If you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, don’t panic. Check out our complete guide to filling out the FAFSA for easy-to-follow guidance.
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