Answer: You must file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you wish to apply for financial aid, since the FAFSA goes off of your previous year’s tax information and that can change from year to year. The FAFSA for the upcoming academic year ALWAYS becomes available on January 1st preceding that year. So, for instance for the 2012 – 2013 school year, the FAFSA became available on January 1, 2012.
You should file that application as soon as it comes out and make changes to it later when your taxes are complete.
Be sure to select the correct version of the FAFSA to complete because, each year from January 1 through June 30, two versions of the FAFSA are available: one for the current academic year and one for the upcoming academic year. Then, from July 1 through December 31, only the version of the FAFSA for the current academic year is available.
I strongly encourage students and their families to file the online version of the FAFSA. Applying online provides helpful edits which alert you to possible problems with your application – including required items that are left blank or completed incorrectly – before the application is submitted.
Also, when you apply online, the turn-around time is much quicker and updates and corrections can be submitted quickly and easily. If you are unable to file on-line, you can download and print a paper version of the FAFSA to complete and mail to the FAFSA processor. You can also check with your local college or university financial aid office or a high school counseling office.
Be sure to file your FAFSA as per each universite’s priority funding deadline. If your FAFSA is late, you may not receive institutional funding or other funding for which you’d otherwise be eligible simply because funding is no longer available.
Some schools and states give out money on a first come, first served basis and the date they look at is the date of the original application. If you wait to file your application when your taxes are done, you could be missing out on some serious money. It is very easy to go back online and make updates to your application to reflect your tax and income information.
If you have not yet applied for next year’s FAFSA, there’s no time like now.
Have a question for the financial expert? Post in the comments or email The Explorer.
* * *
Jodi Okun, College Financial Aid Advisors, graduated from University of Redlands with a bachelor of science in business. She is active in a variety of professional academic and financial aid organizations, including CASFAA (California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) and WASFAA (Western Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators). Okun also hosts the #CollegeCash twitter chat every Thursday from 7pm – 8pm Pacific Time.