New College Aid Form Released

Although students have until June 30 to file a FAFSA, college aid counselors advise filing as early as February to better the chances of a favorable package.

Students applying for financial aid for the 2010-2011 school year will find the task a little easier because of revisions to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The new version of the FAFSA will have fewer questions and individual steps, making it simpler to complete and less of a deterrent to prospective students, especially those applying for the first time. The online version of the new FAFSA uses “skip logic,” which automatically tailors questions to a student’s circumstances, eliminating any that are unnecessary.

Although students have until June 30 to file a FAFSA, college aid counselors advise filing as early as possible. Since many colleges start putting together aid packages as early as February, the earlier a student files, the better his/her chances of scoring a more favorable aid package. Students should also pay attention to deadlines set by individual colleges. Filing a FAFSA early may also mean that parents may need to do income taxes early, since the form will ask for income information from 2009. If that’s a problem, you can estimate income and expenses, but be as realistic as possible and use information from the previous year to help you.

When it comes to calculating the expected family contribution (EFC), on the other hand, the FAFSA will look at the value of any assets, especially savings, on the date the application is filed. Since credit card debt isn’t part of the aid equation, a viable strategy may be to pay down that debt with money from savings accounts. That move achieves two goals — lower debt and a better chance at increased financial aid. To help you through the college aid process, one of the best sources for information is Finaid.org.