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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Fill out the FAFSA? In a word. Yes.

To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work study, and loans, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.

Many middle-class families have convinced themselves that filling out the FAFSA isn’t worth the effort because they have heard that only students from families earning less than about $50,000 get federal grants.

Some of the most generous private colleges award need-based aid to students whose families earn more than $200,000 a year. That means that a great number of families find themselves on the bubble, wondering if they should invest the time. The FAFSA isn’t that daunting. Honestly, gathering your materials to complete it is likely to take more time than it does to fill out the form. But the payoff in financial aid rewards could make a significant difference over the next four years.

Here are a few reasons that even the wealthiest families should fill out the FAFSA:

Need is a relative concept: Even affluent families can be “needy” when college costs $80,000 a year.

Scholarships: Some colleges, state agencies and scholarship foundations require the FAFSA to award scholarships and grants to middle-class and upper-middle-class students attending expensive schools.

Other aid opportunities: Some financial aid programs require a FAFSA even though they award aid without regard to family income. Some colleges also use FAFSA information as a deciding factor for students who are on the borderline for merit scholarships.

The official FAFSA form (www.fafsa.ed.gov) is now available. Since funds are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, even families who don’t anticipate receiving aid are encouraged to complete the forms as early as possible.

Will I be eligible to receive financial aid?

To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number (with the exception of students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau).
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school.
  • Sign the certification statement on the FAFSA form stating that you are not in default on a federal student loan, you do not owe money on a federal student grant, and you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes.
  • Show you’re qualified to obtain a college or career school education by having a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate; completing a high school education in a home-school setting approved under state law; or enrolling in an eligible career pathway program and meeting one of the “ability-to-benefit” alternatives.

What will I need to fill out the FAFSA?

To complete the FAFSA, you will need:

  • Your Social Security Number.
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • Your federal income tax returns, W-2s and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable).
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable).
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically.