Want free financial aid? FAFSA midnight deadline looms

Want free finacial aid? FAFSA midnight deadline loomsStudents have only a day left to file for free financial aid and the Department of Education warns students of potential scams as the time to file draws closer.

Midnight June 30 (Central Daylight Time) marks the deadline to file a FAFSA, or free application for federal student aid. But the Department of Education warns that students shouldn't confuse websites such as www.fafsa.com with the real government website: www.fafsa.ed.gov. The government agency cautions last-minute filers to never pay for the fake application, when the real thing is offered for free.

Each year the Department of Education works with the Federal Trade Commission to publish an annual report for the U.S. Congress that lists consumer complaints and explains the department's outreach efforts to identify and publicize these aid scams, said Justin Hamilton, spokesman from the Department of Education in an e-mail with Money College.
FAFSA grants college students funding based on parental income or a student's income. Each year the federal government provides more than $100 billion in financial aid to nearly 14 million students and their families.

Every year a student is enrolled in school, he or she must reapply for the FAFSA to receive financial aid. Students can file on paper or on the website, which many colleges and universities prefer because it's a faster way to file and find out results. If a student meets the federal aid standards, he or she could land funding from federal sources, states and colleges.

Ron Johnson, Financial Aid Director at UCLA, notes that about 28,883 students at UCLA benefited from FAFSA applications. The FAFSA captures financial aid information on the family, which is then run through a series of formulas, Johnson said in an e-mail to Money College.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the result amount. The government calculates that the student or family should be able to contribute the set amount toward one year of attendance, based on income and assets, he said.

Johnson sees success stories as a result of students filing FAFSA forms; however, he is surprised that many students don't take advantage of this free government program.

"It is amazing in 2010 that there remains a significant number of students who do feel they [can't] attend college because of lack of funds," he said. "The success stories that I have witnessed over and over [happen] when the veil is lifted and these families can see the many options available to them to assist their children in fulfilling their educational aspirations."

The financial aid director suggests students and their families research deadlines for the state or college to make sure they file all correct applications, especially if future federal funding becomes limited. By meeting application deadlines, students may qualify for grants and scholarships.

"As college cost continues to increase and family incomes remain stagnant, or decline, there will certainly be more applicants for the limited funds available," he said. "This by no means is to cast a cloud over the access to funds, as every year, the federal government provides more than $100 billion in aid to nearly 14 million post-secondary students and their families. But it is important that families know that they must apply using the FAFSA, and they must apply on time."

There are three ways to file a FAFSA before the time is up.

First, It helps to know the solid facts and information for the form before students file a FAFSA.

It's important to know dependency status, such as dependent, living with a parent or guardian or independent, not living with a parent or guardian. Maybe a student has children; in that case, it's important to note whether these children depend on the student.

In addition, it's helpful for students to be familiar with the FAFSA on the Web worksheet, school codes for colleges or universities you plan on applying to, and also to register for a PIN number and verify correct dates for the application.

Second, fill out the FAFSA by answering the financial information and college plan questions. Students can save the application and correct it on more than one visit to the website. Also, students can sign the electronic document by using a PIN.

Third, students should be thorough with their application. It's crucial to continue checking the status of the application and make corrections. If a student is no longer applying to one school or has interest in other schools, those amendments can be made by adding or deleting school codes. In this last step, students should also review and print the Student Aid Report, or SAR.

If a student misses the deadline for this year the next period to file will begin July 1, 2010 and end June 30, 2011.

Added Hamilton: "Students should also be mindful of their school's and their state's deadlines for applying for aid since some of this aid may be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis."
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