Financial Aid 101
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Free step-by-step guide on financial aid with secret tips on saving money!
Beginning on January 1, file your FAFSA online. By filing online, your FAFSA will be processed much faster than paper FAFSA applications. Many scholarships also begin accepting applications in January, so start applying!
Be on the lookout for your "Student Aid Report" (SAR). This report is a confirmation of the data you submitted on the FAFSA. If you need to make changes, follow the instructions or contact the school's financial aid office. You can also call 1-800-4-FED-AID for assistance.
Check the schools listed on the "School Section" of the SAR to ensure the correct schools were recorded on your application. You can always submit it to additional schools at a later date.
Many states have priority deadlines for the FAFSA to qualify for state aid by March 1, so make sure you file that FAFSA sooner rather than later!
Many schools begin making awards in March. You should receive a package of information from the school's financial aid office that details the financial aid programs and dollar amounts of your financial aid award. Learn more about how to read your award letter!
Follow the instructions and be sure to meet any deadlines for accepting your financial aid award.
Remember, financial aid rarely meets all the costs of tuition and fees; to make up any gaps between federal and institutional financial aid, you may need a private student loan.
Remember to file your IRS federal income tax return no later than April 15. Even though it's not strictly financial aid related, any tax penalties or taxes owed can wreak havoc on financial aid the following year, so be sure to stay on the good side of the IRS by filing a tax return. Even if you don't need to file a tax return, it doesn't hurt to do so - in 2006, anyone filing an income tax return qualified for the telephone excise tax refund, no matter whether you owed taxes or not.
Students who are graduating should immediately file for student loan consolidation. Students still enrolled in school for another year or more should continue searching for aid, scholarships, and grants throughout the summertime.
For students who are studying abroad, May is the right time to acquire a study abroad loan. Those studying during summer semesters will need to have financial aid in order for Summer Semester I.
Jobs and travel often occupy the calendars of students during the summer. Remember that any income you make as a student can potentially impact your financial aid for the following year, so it may be worthwhile investigating internships or volunteer work to build experience.
For students taking summer courses, July is usually the beginning of Summer Semester II; be sure you have your financial aid in order. New rates on federal student loans typically take effect on July 1 of each year, so be mindful whether a rate change in any given year could benefit you positively or negatively.
First time Stafford Federal Student Loan borrowers often have to fulfill an Entrance Counseling session - and many schools provide these sessions over the Internet. Check with your school.
Double check on any outside financial aid or college scholarships you may be receiving.
Make sure any loans you're applying for are in progress and moving towards disbursement to your school. Keep in touch with your financial aid office to verify that your award package is in place.
School is beginning - make sure that all your loans are in process or disbursed, as the bills won't be far behind. If you find yourself confronted with a spate of unexpected expenses or shortfalls in aid, apply for private student loan, since you can usually obtain alternative student loans in a much shorter period of time than federal student loans.
October is the month of early decision - many students applying to college file their college applications during October. Make sure you've got a clear understanding of a school's financial aid packages before doing an early decision application that may be binding!
Students who have graduated and not consolidated their student loans will be approaching the end of their grace periods. Remember, the repayment rate for Stafford Loans is 0.6% higher than the grace period rate, so consolidating can save you more than half a percent on your interest rate.
November is also a great month to begin writing scholarship essays, as these can be time consuming, and it's best to have them done and reviewed prior to the start of the January scholarship season.
Gather up your tax receipts, pay stubs, etc. and fill out an estimated IRS 1040 so that you can file your FAFSA as soon as the doors open on January 1. If you have the opportunity to do so, consult with a financial planner (most community banks and credit unions offer low cost or no-cost consultations to members/customers) and review your finances to see about last minute changes you can make that impact financial aid eligibility.