The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known better as the FAFSA form, is the basic financial aid form that all schools require in order to qualify for federal financial aid including student loans. Most families wait until all their financial documents are neatly in order and their tax returns have been submitted. That way you have all the information you need to complete the forms correctly.
Since some tax documents won’t show up in your mailbox until mid February or later, many families choose to wait to complete the FAFSA. However, waiting can be a costly mistake. The Federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA isn’t until June 30th of next year. However, most states and colleges have deadlines that are much earlier. Some deadlines come as early as February – as in this February. And the CSS Profile form, which is required at many private colleges and universities, can be even earlier than that.
Depending on what schools you are considering the deadline to submit your financial aid information can come up faster than a Jimmy Johns “freaky fast” sandwich delivery.
To find out your school’s FAFSA deadline, check out this nifty tool: Instatuition.
Instatuition’s calculator will instantly tell you your favorite school’s FAFSA deadline. Type in Saint Olaf, for example, and you will see that their FAFSA deadline has already passed! Now that’s fast.
Experts like Mark Kantrowitz of Edvisors, recommend submitting the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 even if you don’t have all your tax ducks in a row. The deadline at Saint Olaf is one example.
To complete your FAFSA form early you will need to use estimated financial information and amend your FAFSA later. For many families an estimate based on last year’s numbers is going to be pretty accurate. Unless you are in sales or receive bonuses or are self-employed (or occasionally unemployed) your income probably doesn’t change that much from one year to the next.
If you are confident that last year’s numbers will be very similar to this year’s numbers you can use your 2013 tax documents to provide your estimate. If you think your income has changed, use your year-end pay stub or other information to come up with a figure.
It also might pay to give your tax preparer a heads up that you will need her to turn around your tax return as soon as possible. If you provide your tax person as much of your information as possible early in the tax season, and explain that you need your tax return to complete the FAFSA form, you should be able to get a quick turn around once they have all your tax documents.
The time to submit your financial aid documents is right now. Even if your FAFSA deadline is March or April, don’t delay. These deadlines will sneak up on you before you know it.