The earlier, the better: That’s the advice you’ll hear about filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. This form is the gateway to college funding such as federal student loans, grants and work-study, and more aid is available if you apply early.
But if you need summer funding and are just now filling out the FAFSA, you might not have had that chance. As long as you file by June 30, you can still qualify for some types funding — and it’s better to receive some than none at all. Here’s what you need to know to tackle the FAFSA with confidence.
1. Ask your school which year’s form to complete
College students might file a FAFSA for summer study if they received a full scholarship for fall and spring and didn’t need financial aid, says Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators.
“The tricky thing about the summer is that it doesn’t neatly fall into one year or the other,” she says. Your school may consider the summer term the end of the 2016-17 school year or the start of 2017-18. Ask the financial aid office which year’s FAFSA to fill out; both are currently live on fafsa.ed.gov. Make sure you submit before your school’s summer financial aid deadline.
2. Understand your aid eligibility
If you’re filling out a 2016-17 FAFSA, you’ve probably missed out on school-based funds that are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, says Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach at Educational Credit Management Corporation, a nonprofit higher education finance corporation. Those funds include Perkins loans, federal work-study and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.
But federal student loans and Pell Grants, which are available to students with financial need and don’t need to be repaid, don’t run out. If your school considers summer the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, though, you’ll have to stretch student loans and Pell Grants across the summer, fall and spring semesters. Ask a financial aid administrator how receiving summer aid could affect your eligibility for the rest of the year.
3. Access 2015 tax returns
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool — a key component of the FAFSA — has been offline since early March due to security concerns. It allowed students and families to automatically transfer income information from their tax returns to the FAFSA. Instead, applicants must now manually enter these details.
Before sitting down to complete the FAFSA, make sure both you and your parents, if you’ll be including their income information, have access to your 2015 tax returns. You’ll use them to complete both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSA, McCarthy says, due to a change in the filing guidelines instituted last year.
Don’t know where to find your return? Ask your tax professional, if you hired one, or download a copy from your online tax prep software. If none of those options is available, request a tax transcript from the IRS.