By Steven Muller
If you are about to enter or still in college, it's time to start filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, also known as the FAFSA. The document is the starting point for applying to almost all student financial assistance programs and determines eligibility for federal financial aid. Many schools also use it as part of their application for nonfederal aid. But the form has been so daunting that many students just don't bother applying for financial aid. That's kept 40 percent of college students from seeking financial aid
You should submit your FAFSA to the Department of Education as soon as possible after Jan. 1 of the year in which you're trying to get federal financial aid, though you do have until the end of the academic year to complete it. Also, meet your school's deadline for scholarships and low-interest loans. Federal financial aid includes need- and non-need-based grants, scholarships, work/study and low-cost student loans. When seeking financial aid, first seek free money through grants and scholarships. Supplement that with your income, college savings, and a monthly tuition payment plan. Then look for federal loans for students and parents because they offer low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options. Use private education loans made by financial institutions as a last resort. They tend to cost more than federal loans and typically have variable interest rates.
There's money out there to help finance your college education. Don't let paperwork prevent you from claiming your share of it.