Starting the Financial Aid Process with the FAFSA Application

Going to college is expensive, and it seems to get more expensive every year. That’s why parents and students turn to the FAFSA application to explore their chances of obtaining financial help for college expenses.AdobeStock_78887285

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for financial aid, which can take the form of grants, loans, and work-study funds.

Every year, billions of dollars are handed out to eligible students who submit a FAFSA application. But those funds aren’t available to you if you don’t apply. Believe it or not, it’s recommended that every student considering college fill out the FAFSA form. Some students think they won’t qualify for financial aid because their parents earn too much money, or they already have a college savings plan. However, what a lot of students and parents don’t realize is that the majority of students who submit a FAFSA are eligible for at least some form of funding. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2014-2015 school year, 86% of first-time, full-time undergrads received some type of financial aid.

One important thing to note is that the FAFSA should be submitted every year you’re attending college. The deadline for submitting a FAFSA application varies depending on which state you live in and what school year the aid is for. To determine which deadline applies to you, visit Regardless of when your FAFSA deadline is, you should keep in mind that some schools award financial aid on a “first-come, first-served” basis, so it’s best to apply as soon as possible. You can submit your application as early as October 1st each year.

Before you jump into your application, you should first determine whether you qualify as a “dependent” student, or an “independent” student. This distinction is very important, as a dependent student must enter both their own financial information, and their parents’ financial information on the form, while an independent student only needs to enter their own information. To help determine which type of student you are, visit

It’s also important to gather some specific information and items before starting the application process, such as:

  • Driver’s license or other eligible form of government ID
  • Previous year’s tax returns for students and/or parents
  • Social Security numbers for students and/or parents (or Alien Registration Numbers for non-U.S. citizens)
  • Federal school codes for the school you’re attending, or the schools you’ll be applying to
  • Records of untaxed income, such as child support
  • Other important financials like bank statements and investment records

You can easily complete and submit your application online, just be sure to do so via the official FAFSA website: Keep in mind that FAFSA will never charge you to submit an application, so if you see any mention of fees, or are prompted to enter your credit card information, it should serve as a warning that you’re on site that is not affiliated or endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education.

If you submit your application on the FAFSA website, it will be processed faster than if you sent in your application by postal mail, and it’s likely to be more accurate because the FAFSA website is designed to automatically catch common errors. With an online application, you can also save and continue your FAFSA form at any time using an FSA ID. An FSA ID consists of a username and password that can be used to log into the FAFSA website.

It’s important to go into the FAFSA application process with a clear head, and be careful not to rush through the form. Providing the wrong information on a FAFSA application could delay processing and impact your chances of getting financial assistance. Here are some common errors to watch out for when completing your form:

  • Entering the wrong permanent address;
  • Leaving fields empty. Blank fields can cause miscalculations and ultimately lead to a rejected application. To avoid this, enter a “0” or “not applicable” instead of leaving a field blank, if it doesn’t apply to you;
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number. Double and triple-check these numbers to ensure they are entered accurately;
  • Forgetting to sign and date the application;
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Numbers should always be rounded to the nearest dollar;
  • Listing student or parent marital statuses incorrectly;
  • Entering the wrong amount of federal income tax paid. You should obtain this amount from your income tax return, NOT your W-2 form;
  • Listing your “Adjusted Gross Income” as equal to your “Total Income”. These figures are different; generally, Adjusted Gross Income is larger than Total Income;
  • Forgetting to list the college(s) the student is applying to, or planning on attending.

Although there’s a lot involved with submitting a FAFSA application, it can greatly pay off in the end. There’s a good chance you could receive the funding necessary to make your college dreams a reality, but you’ll never know unless you take the time to apply.

Ways To Save And Still Enjoy The College Life

It may not be the worst nightmare of a college student, but it ranks right up there – running out of money before the school year ends.


If you’re in college, you probably know what we’re talking about. And right behind that nightmare is the one where you have to text or call your parents begging for cash, and then suffer through the lecture of “not saving enough for school” before they spring you out of financial purgatory.

Fortunately for you, there are some options that can help ease the money crunch, and help you pave the way for a lifetime of smart saving:

  • Select a savings account that suits you best. Things to look for in an account include one that has few or no fees and also has a competitive interest rate. Many financial institutions have accounts tailored to college students. Look for them online or ask friends and other students for recommendations. Another option is to select a savings account at an online bank. Many online banks offer higher interest rates than their traditional brick and mortar counterparts, so your savings can pile up faster. Bank5 Connect offers a High-Interest Savings Account that allows you to earn a competitive interest rate with just a $100 minimum balance.
  • Look for a part-time job on or off campus. It can help fill in those financial gaps that you might experience, and give you more money to squirrel away in your savings account.
  • Don’t be an impulsive buyer. Think it through before you make purchases. You’re going to be an obvious target for retailers in college towns who will try to draw you in with special “student sales.” But unless you really need something, don’t even think about browsing. You want to avoid shelling out money you don’t have for something that really isn’t necessary.
  • Take advantage of student discounts. Restaurants typically offer them, as do student bookstores. A 15% discount here, and a 10% discount there can really add up, so don’t be shy about asking if a retailer offers them.
  • Don’t avoid budgeting. It may sound scary, but a budget will end up becoming your best financial friend. It’s important to know what your income and expenses are on a regular basis so you don’t end up overspending and digging yourself a giant hole of debt.
  • Don’t get sucked in by credit card offers “exclusively” for college students. You might be flattered by the special attention, but avoid falling into that trap. If you can stay away from racking up credit card bills, do so. And if you do decide you need a credit card, be sure you know exactly what you’re getting into, including what happens when the low introductory interest rate goes away. Plus, plan on paying off your entire credit card balance every month so interest charges don’t start to pile up.
  • Live frugally. This could mean cutting out daily trips to the coffee shop or reducing the number of times you’re heading out to bars and restaurants each week. You’ll be surprised (and proud of) just how much you can save by living within your means.

Getting ahead of the class with your saving skills will not only benefit you as a college student, but it will prepare you for your financial future as well. Once you graduate, you’ll likely be on your own with managing your finances, so getting a head start on smart budgeting and saving now can save you some headaches and tough lessons down the road.

Life After College Calls for Smart Financial Decisions

College provides a great opportunity to spread your wings and try new things. But it doesn’t take long for reality to set in once a degree is in hand. That’s especially true when it comes to finances.AdobeStock_61732074

You may have student loans to repay, or you may need a new car to get to and from work. And then there are those pesky living expenses to consider, like rent and food and utility bills.

Sorting through it all can be a challenge. But you can prepare yourself for what’s ahead by drafting a financial blueprint for the future. Here are some guidelines for putting together that plan:

  • Brush up on personal finances. One thing you’ll quickly discover is the need to create a budget. It’s critical to get a sense of how much money you have coming in, and what you can realistically afford to spend each week or month. Maintaining a monthly or weekly budget will give you a firm grasp on your finances and help you decide where you may need to tighten things up a bit to stay financially sound. But it’s also important to establish a plan that’s practical. You don’t want to create a budget that’s so tight you can’t enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Leave a little bit of wiggle room so you can afford to go out to a nice dinner or a get a specialty coffee every once in a while without feeling guilty.
  • Protect yourself with adequate medical insurance. You may be young and healthy and ready to conquer the world, but it only takes a slip on the ice or a car accident to bring you back to reality. Life is full of unexpected medical emergencies, and health insurance provides a cushion to cover the ever-increasing costs of recovery from an injury or illness.
  • Establish a rainy day fund. What if you do end up in the hospital with a broken leg or lengthy illness? Will you have funds to carry you through until you can get back on your feet? Or maybe your car will conk out while you’re driving down the highway. Will you have enough money to fix it or get a new one? If you have a rainy day fund, you will.
  • Avoid racking up debt. Credit cards are typically easy to get and even easier to use. But again, discipline is the key to handling credit. Put a strict limit on the number of cards you have and keep your maximum spending limit at a manageable level, say in the range of $500 to $1,000 per card. You can always increase the spending caps as you grow older and financially wiser. You should also aim to only charge what you can afford to pay each month. Paying off your full credit card balance on a monthly basis will help you to avoid costly interest charges. You don’t want to end up paying hundreds of dollars in interest over a long period of time for something that only cost $100 to begin with!
  • Start saving now, and on a regular basis. Get into the habit of putting aside a portion of each paycheck in a savings account. Encourage yourself to save by setting goals, such as buying a new car or a home. And even though it might seem ludicrous to start saving now for a retirement that’s decades away, you’ll be surprised how much you can make on the money you save today. If your employer has a 401k plan, sign up right away, especially if your employer will match or partially match your contributions. And if your job doesn’t offer an employer-sponsored plan, don’t dismay! You can still save for your retirement through an Individual Retirement Account, commonly referred to as an IRA.

The more you can do now to prepare for your financial future, the better off you’ll be down the road. And remember that the financial choices you make today will follow you throughout the years. Best of luck college grad!