With a graduating high school student in the house who’s determined to attend private college, we have been paying very close attention to FAFSA deadlines. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a part of the US Department of Education and the largest provider of student aid in the United States.
FAFSA uses information from your current year’s tax returns to determine the amount of grants and scholarships your teenager may be eligible for. Since awards are often given on a first come first serve basis, it’s important for us parents to hit those early FAFSA deadlines with or without a finished tax return.
The first FAFSA deadline is January 31. Since you probably don’t even have your W-2s or 1099s yet, it’s totally OK to estimate (you can learn how by reading “Estimating your income for FAFSA”). An estimated figure will give the college some idea of how much financial aid needs to be set aside for your teenager.
Once your W-2s and supporting documents do arrive in the mail, start working on your tax returns immediately. Some states and many colleges have a March 1 deadline for filling out a Financial Aid Verification Form which verifies the information used in the FAFSA. The forms we were given asked for the actual numbers taken from our tax return which is why we had to hustle to get them prepared before the March 1 deadline.
The final step in the FAFSA process is to return to the website to make the corrections to your income. This is done by activating the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) which electronically pulls the information from your filed tax returns. Here’s the kicker; it takes 2-3 weeks for e-filed returns to be accessed from the FAFSA and they only can be accessed once the IRS has deposited your payment or issued your refund. For procrastinators who’ve waited to the last possible minute to file, Midnight Central Time, September 19 (for year 2015) is the final deadline when you must make corrections or updates to the FAFSA application. Since it can take up to 3 weeks for the Date Retrieval Tool to work, this means that your tax returns should e-filed no later than August 31.
For teens who are waiting to commit to a college until they know how much financial aid will be available, it’s critical to file taxes as early as possible. The college my teen is interested in attending wants a letter of commitment by May 1 which would not be possible if we didn’t file as early as we did.
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10 questions parents should ask on a college campus visit
FAFSA deadlines parents should know