FAFSA deadline, requirements, calculator, contact, student loan & aid questions answered for 2017

The cost of one year at an in-state, four-year college keeps rising each year — surpassing $20,000 during the 2016-2017 school year, according to the College Board. That’s quite the chunk of change, and unless your family is wealthy or started saving big at birth — you’re likely going to need an assist when it’s time to pick up that tab.

Yet few people submit the “Holy Grail” college financial aid documentation — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or, as it’s more commonly known, the FAFSA — which opened to applications early in 2017, this Oct. 1. Maybe you have already started by using the FAFSA4caster calculator, an early eligibility estimator to help you plan ahead how to pay for college? If not, there’s a good argument to check out the eligibility requirements and get moving.

That is because about $2.3 billion in financial aid was left on the table by last year’s college-bound seniors, a recent NerdWallet analysis found. The company arrived at that figure by comparing the number of high school graduates who did not fill out the FAFSA, state and federal financial aid data, and an estimate of how many of them may have been eligible for Pell Grants.

The company also estimates that each of those students who didn’t fill out the form would have netted $3,583 on average. Grants, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back by the student.

10 U.S. states with the most debt:

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The 10 US states with the most debt
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The 10 US states with the most debt

1. California

California has the highest debt-to-income ratio in the country. Residents of the Golden State make about $28,000 annually on average, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The New York Federal Reserve Bank shows that Californians have a per resident debt balance of $65,740. This gives Californians a debt-to-income ratio of 2.34 on average. Like many other states, most of Californians’ debt is held up in their mortgages. Californians owe about $51,190 on their mortgages on a per capita basis. 

Photo credit: Getty 

2. Hawaii

Hawaii comes in second with a debt-to-income ratio of 2.1. On average Hawaiians make slightly more than Golden State residents. The median income in Hawaii is $31,905 as compared to $28,068 in California. Residents of Hawaii also have slightly more debt per capita than those in California: $67,010 to $65,740. Hawaiians have the second-highest proportion of debt tied up in mortgage. In total, $51,770 out of the total $67,010 in per capita debt that Hawaiians hold is owed on mortgages. That means 77% of per capita debt is mortgage debt. 

Photo credit: Getty 

3. Virginia

Virginia comes in third with a debt-to-income ratio just below 2. The average Virginian makes about $31,557 and has $62,520 in debt. One reason why lenders may feel safe lending to Virginians, allowing them to have a high debt-to-income ratio, is their low delinquency rates. Only 1.27% of mortgage debt in Virginia is delinquent by at least 90 days. That is the 13th-lowest rate in the country. Virginia also has a relatively high proportion of its debt in student loans (7.76%).

Photo credit: Getty

4. Colorado

Of Colorado’s total debt, 6.85% is tied up in automobile debt. That’s the second-highest rate in the top 10. However it is quite a bit lower than the national average of 9.57%. Overall there is not much separating Colorado from Virginia: Colorado has a debt-to-income ratio of 1.96. The median income in Colorado is $31,664 and the per capita debt is $62,200.

Photo credit: Getty 

5. Utah

Like the rest of the top 10, Utah residents have the vast majority of their debt tied up in mortgages. Utah residents have $52,150 in per capita debt, $38,240 of which is mortgage debt. The state also has one of the lowest delinquency rates for mortgage debt. Only 1.05% of mortgage debt is 90 days past due in Utah. Again this may partially explain why lenders are so willing to lend to Utahans looking for mortgages. 

Photo credit: Getty 

6. Washington, D.C.

Almost 15% of all debt held in the nation’s capital is owed on student loan debt. All that higher education may be paying off though. D.C. has the highest median income in the country and over half of the population over the age of 25 has at least a bachelor’s degree. In fact, there are more people over the age of 25 in D.C. with a graduate degree (32.3%) than there are with only a bachelor’s degree (23.8%). The capital also has the lowest percent of debt in the country tied up in auto loans (3.35%), probably due to the accessible public transportation available in the area. 

Photo credit: Getty 

7. Oregon

Oregon has a debt-to-income ratio of 1.89. On average Oregonians make less than many other states in the top 10. The median income in the Beaver State is $26,188, according the U.S. Census Bureau. Oregon also has the least per capita debt in the top 10, at $49,550 per resident. For the most part Oregonians choose to go into debt to buy homes. Over 72% of overall debt is held in mortgages. One area where Oregonians struggle is in paying off credit card debt. Just over 7% of all credit card debt in the state is delinquent. One way to eliminate credit card debt is using a balance transfer credit card. With a balance transfer credit card, new users typically have a limited time to make no-interest payments. 

Photo credit: Getty 

8. Washington

Washington, Oregon’s northwest neighbor, comes in eighth for highest debt-to-income ratio. The state has the third-lowest percent of debt tied up in student loans (6.29%) but the third-highest percent of debt tied up in mortgages (75.35%). Washingtonians also tend to be some of the most responsible holders of debt in the country. They rank above average in delinquency rates on all types of debt and rank in the top 10 for lowest rates of auto loan delinquency and credit card delinquency. 

Photo credit: Getty 

9. Massachusetts

On average Massachusetts residents earn about $32,352 per year and have about $59,820 in debt per capita. That works out to a debt-to-income ratio of 1.84. Once again, like other states, the majority of that debt is mortgage debt. About 72% of per capita debt in the Bay State is mortgage debt. The state’s residents don’t take on as much credit card debt as other states do. About 5.45% of per capita is tied up in credit card debt

Photo credit: Getty 

10. Maryland

The Old Line State rounds out our top 10 states with the highest debt-to-income ratios. Maryland residents are some of the most well-off in the country, with an average individual income of $36,316. In terms of debt, Maryland residents have $67,020 in per capita debt, meaning their debt-to-income ratio is 1.84.

Photo credit: Getty 

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“It’s a huge discrepancy,” said Kelly Peeler, the CEO of NextGenVest, a startup that helps mostly low-income kids fill out their forms and find scholarships via text message. “The average ratio of guidance counselors to students nationwide is 1 to 500 students ... It’s impossible for that one counselor to hold everyone’s hands while they fill out somewhat complicated tax forms.”

Want to get organized? First, know your deadlines: For the 2018 to 2019 school year, you can apply for federal aid between Oct. 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019. For the 2017 to 2018 year, you can also still apply until June 30, 2018. State and college deadlines vary: More information is on the federal student aid website.

Fortunately, potentially helpful recent changes to the system went into effect this year. This year’s seniors will also be able to once again access a popular IRS data retrieval to that shut down temporarily last year due to security issues. Here are three big takeaways you need to know about the FAFSA this year.

1. FASFA now gives you more time to get your ID and fill it out before the deadline

There were a two major changes to the FAFSA this year, and both of them are related. The first, and by far most important, was moving up the earliest date you could submit your forms from Jan. 1 of 2018 to October 1, 2017.

Because you’ll be submitting financial aid forms for next year before your parents have likely paid their taxes, students can also begin applying for financial aid using tax forms from the previous year.

The highest paying college major in every state:

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The highest-paying college major in every state
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The highest-paying college major in every state

Alabama

Chemistry - $102,153

(Photo by Rob Hainer via Getty Images)

Alaska

General Engineering - $131,095

(Photo by Sam Diephuis via Getty Images)

Arizona

Zoology - $105,203

(Photo via Getty Images)

Arkansas

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $130,207

(Photo by Joe Sohm via Getty Images)

California

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $124,269

(Photo via Getty Images)

Colorado

Petroleum Engineering - $179,206

(Photo by David Parsons via Getty Images)

Connecticut

Economics - $104,165

(Photo by Sean Pavone via Getty Images)

Delaware

Mechanical Engineering - $99,332

(Photo by Ron Chapple via Getty Images)

Washington, D.C.

Economics - $104,165

(Photo by Mark Segal via Getty Images)

Florida

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $114,582

(Photo via Alamy)

Georgia

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $92,775

(Photo via Alamy)

Hawaii

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $112,644

(Photo by Richard Akuaten via Getty Images)

Idaho

Zoology - $133,637

(Photo via Getty Images)

Illinois

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $116,875

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Indiana

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $114,701

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Iowa

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $114,582

(Photo via Getty Images)

Kansas

Chemistry - $78,124

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Kentucky

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $126,480

(Photo via Getty Images)

Louisiana

Zoology - $113,952

(Photo via Alamy)

Maine

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $131,095

(Photo by James Metcalf via Getty Images)

Maryland

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $121,011

(Photo by Sean Pavone via Getty Images)

Massachusetts

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $105,037

(Photo via Corbis)

Michigan

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $126,053

(Photo via Getty Images)

Minnesota

Business Economics - $88,541

(Photo by Andrey Krav via Getty Images)

Mississippi

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $108,332

(Photo via Getty Images)

Missouri

Zoology - $109,414

(Photo by Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

Montana

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $107,186

(Photo via Getty Images)

Nebraska

Chemistry - $72,607

(Photo via Getty Images)

Nevada

Biology - $82,060

(Photo by Andrew Zarivny via Shutterstock)

New Hampshire

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $129,233

(Photo via Getty Images)

New Jersey

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $118,997

(Photo by Denis Tangney Jr. via Getty Images)

New Mexico

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $123,294

(Photo via Getty Images)

New York

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $110,937

(Photo via Shutterstock)

North Carolina

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $115,761

(Photo via Getty Images)

North Dakota

Biology - $67,836

(Photo by Ben Harding via Getty Images)

Ohio

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $106,500

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Oklahoma

Petroleum Engineering - $142,707

(Photo via Getty Images)

Oregon

Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering - $107,508

(Photo by Bob Pool via Getty Images)

Pennsylvania

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $122,019

(Photo via Getty Images)

Rhode Island

Chemistry - $96,284

(Photo via Kenneth C. Zirkel via Getty Images)

South Carolina

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $123,070

(Photo by Getty Images)

South Dakota

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $122,884

(Photo via Getty Images)

Tennessee

Zoology - $114,884

(Photo via Getty Images)

Texas

Petroleum Engineering - $166,665

(Photo via Getty Images)

Utah

Zoology - $121,011

(Photo via Getty Images)

Vermont

Electrical Engineering - $105,988

(Photo by Denis Tangney Jr. via Getty Images)

Virginia

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $119,790

(Photo via Getty Images)

Washington

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $117,764

(Photo via Getty Images)

West Virginia

Chemistry - $80,674

(Photo by Stan Rohrer via Getty Images)

Wisconsin

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs - $226,163

(Photo by Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

Wyoming

Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration - $115,969

(Photo by Getty Images)

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“It’s really a way to get people to fill it out sooner,” NerdWallet’s student loan analyst Brianna McGurran said. “People assume they will not qualify for financial aid ... There’s a sense it’s not worth the trouble, and it’s true that the form is long.”

Otherwise, the FAFSA is still exactly the same. Most likely, all you’ll need is proof of income — usually the W2 tax form issued to you by your employer — a social security number, and a FAFSA ID, which you can access through the Department of Education website.

If you have investments or another source of untaxed income, you’ll also need to report that. Finally, if you’re a dependent, you’ll also need the above stats from your parents.

2. But earlier is still better with the FAFSA

Though you will likely have extra time to fill out this year’s FAFSA, it would be unwise to take advantage of it, both McGurren and Peeler said.

“Financial aid is like a pizza pie, it’s a finite amount and you want to get your slice,” Peeler said. “I’m in Chicago right now working on the MAP grant, which is an [Illinois] state grant you get through the FAFSA, and it literally runs out by December.”

The example of the MAP grant is extreme, Peeler said, and it has a bit of a reputation for drying up long before the deadline to fill out your forms. Still, even if you’re not in Illinois, if you haven’t already you should get started.

Schools also may have scholarships and other sources of financial aid of their own that are awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis, McGurren said. Work study, for example, is often awarded on a first-serve basis — though it’s also important to remember that work study recipients still have to find their own jobs, and that their pay may vary.

“I would encourage everyone to do it this weekend, if you have 30 minutes,” she said. “The biggest mistake is not filling it out, or filling it out late.”

3. Don’t forget — more student aid deadlines are coming

Despite its importance, filling out the FAFSA is only the first in many, many steps it will take to manage the cost of education before you graduate.

Whatever individual schools you apply to will have financial forms and deadlines of their own and, annoyingly, Peeler said, college financial aid offices usually keep an unhelpful schedule, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when students with questions are likely to be in class.

Many colleges also make prospective students work with two different offices — admissions for questions about whether they get in, and financial aid for questions about how they’re going to pay if they do — adding another layer of friction. For that reason, you should take an extra 10 minutes once the FAFSA is finished to set reminders on your phone for any other school-set deadlines that may be harder to track down through the DOE website.

Another good tip? Write your FAFSA IDs and passwords down — like with a pen. Peeler said a lot of students she works with lose them, and setting your FAFSA ID information can take up to two weeks, more than enough time for you to blow through one or two more of your deadlines.

Having that password handy is sure to pay off — at the very least, you’ll need it when you fill out the FAFSA again for your sophomore year

RELATED: 10 universities that produce the most millionaires

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10 universities that produce the most millionaires
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10 universities that produce the most millionaires

1. Harvard University

2. Stanford University

3. Unversity of Pennsylvania

4. Columbia University

5. Oxford University
 

6. MIT

7. New York University

8. Cambridge University

9. Northwestern University

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