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Completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important thing you can do to get money for college.

If you plan to go to college, chances are you’ll apply for some form of federal financial aid. All roads start with the FAFSA. In fact, many schools and states also use the FAFSA as part of their application process for non-federal aid. The FAFSA matters, and you need to fill it out on time.

The FAFSA is a comprehensive form. You may need some help from a parent or guardian to fill it out completely. Be prepared to provide a lot of information about your family: their income, copies of income taxes, family size, the number of family members attending college, and more.

To maximize your chances of getting financial aid, submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 of the year for which you’re requesting aid. Some funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

How to complete the FAFSA

If you're nervous about completing the FAFSA, take a deep breath and relax. It takes time, but it’s not as difficult as you may think. The easiest and fastest way to submit your FAFSA is online, because your application will be processed within 3-5 days. (You can mail in a paper application, but the processing time will take a little longer — about 2-4 weeks.)

AVOID SCAMS: Submitting the FAFSA is absolutely FREE! Avoid websites that charge you to file your FAFSA or ask for any credit card or payment information!

Four steps to completing the FAFSA

Step 1: Know your deadlines

Submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 of the year you’ll be entering college. College and state financial aid deadlines can be as early as February or March of your senior year of high school. They may also require an additional application after the FAFSA is submitted. Play it safe. Check your deadlines and apply as early as you can to maximize financial aid.

Step 2: Have all the information you’ll need at hand

You’ll need a number of items including: your Social Security number, family financial information, and more.

Step 3: Request your FSA ID

To complete and submit your FAFSA online, you’ll need an FSA ID. It’s a username and password that lets you sign the FAFSA online, check on the status of your FAFSA, and access your personal information. Apply for your FSA ID at

Note: The FSA ID replaces the previous FAFSA PIN.

Step 4: Access FAFSA Online

Complete your FAFSA online and apply as soon as you can after January 1. Some funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

NOTE: File the FAFSA every year

You'll need to submit a FAFSA every year you're in college. It takes time, but getting help to pay for college can definitely make it worth your while.

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4 financial aid myths BUSTED

Think you won’t qualify for financial aid? Think again. Federal financial aid is available to students and families across all income levels. Here are some common myths about financial aid:

Myth: My family’s income is too high to qualify for financial aid.

Student and family income is not the only factor when the government decides if a student qualifies for a federal student loan. What about other aid? The only way to know for sure is to fill out the FAFSA.

Myth: My family has money saved for college so we won't get any aid.

Student and family savings are not a major factor when a school decides if a student qualifies for Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. The federal formula has allowances for savings and assets. Your family isn’t expected to sacrifice home equity or retirement savings to pay for their child's education.

Myth: My sister or brother wasn't eligible for much financial aid last year, so I won’t be eligible when I enter college this year.

On the contrary, the number of family members in college may favorably impact your financial aid eligibility.

Myth: I’m only attending college part-time, so I won't be eligible for financial aid.

Financial aid is available for part-time students. Ask the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in attending for information on aid for part-time students.

Next steps

Now that you know what the FAFSA is, and how vital it is to getting financial aid, you need to be aware of application deadlines and how to apply for it.

Don’t miss the FAFSA application deadline.

How to apply for the FAFSA

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