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Applying for financial aid isn't just for incoming college freshmen. Each year you plan to be in college you need to submit a renewal FAFSA— the infamously lengthy Free Application for Federal Student Aid. But this time around should be easier than it was before. Here are a few tips to make the FAFSA renewal as pain-free as possible.
Ensure pre-filled information is accurate
When you log in to the Federal Student Aid website with your Federal Student Aid ID, the system will recognize that you completed a FAFSA last year. Your name, contact information and other identifying information will be pre-filled on the form, which saves applicants at least 10 minutes, says Denise Scalzo, director of financial aid administration at Manhattan College.
It’s crucial to make sure the data imported is correct, though, says Jacquelynn Mol Sletten, financial aid administrator for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Because it’s based on your situation from the previous year, it won’t record address or school changes, for example.
“The FAFSA includes an assumed logic that can sometimes add incorrect information for the current FAFSA year,” she says.
Catching an error now means you won’t have to correct it later, which could delay your financial aid award.
Import income information automatically
You and your parents must enter up-to-date financial information so your school can determine how much aid to give you. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool makes it easy by letting you import your income information from the correct tax return to your FAFSA.
Students can file their FAFSA in October using tax information from two years prior. That means starting Oct. 1, 2019, you can file your 2020-21 FAFSA with 2018 income tax data. Families no longer need to enter estimated income information and update it later, after they’ve done their taxes.
» MORE: Your FAFSA questions answered
File early in the FAFSA cycle
It’s ideal to file your FAFSA as close to the October 1 start date as possible. That’s because some types of financial aid are first-come, first-served, and they don’t carry over even if you received them last year.
“Self-help funds, like college work-study, run out fast,” Scalzo says.
Schools and states have their own financial aid deadlines, which are often earlier than the federal deadline of June 30, 2021, for the 2020-21 application.
» MORE: When is the FAFSA deadline?
Don’t forget that the FAFSA can help you get aid no matter your family’s income. Even if you think you won’t qualify for need-based aid like the Pell Grant, the FAFSA could help you get scholarships from private organizations or merit aid from your school.
“Even if a student is not eligible for federal or state grant funding, the FAFSA may be used for institutional aid,” says Mol, referring to funds that come directly from a college or university.