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Seven Steps to Applying For Financial Aid

By Melissa Haberman, Financial Aid Compliance and Training Coordinator - UW Colleges

It's the time of year to begin the application process to receive financial aid for the 2012-2013 school year. It can seem like an overwhelming project, but it doesn't have to be. The information below will help you get started. Some schools have priority dates for applying. Generally the priority dates range from March 15 to April 15. Check with your school for specifics.

The first step is to file your 2011 taxes. You can use the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool to import federal income tax information directly from the IRS into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information will be available approximately two weeks after you electronically file your taxes. It takes longer if you file your taxes by paper.

After your taxes have been submitted, visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. It should look like the image below. Be sure that you are on the ".gov" website. Avoid any sites that charge fees; filing the FAFSA is completely free.

FAFSA web site screen shot

The application has seven steps. If you are an independent student, there will be fewer because you will skip the parent sections. Students who are 24 or older, married, supporting children or dependents, or veterans of the armed forces are considered independent.

Step One includes your name, Social Security number (or permanent resident ID number), date of birth, and contact information.

Step Two is the financial information section. Most of the information can be transferred directly from the IRS. You will be asked questions about the value of your assets and business. The home you live in does not count as an asset. If you own a duplex, only the value of the rental half is an asset. Assets also do not include any accounts that are specifically for retirement such as 401K and IRA accounts. If you own a business and have fewer than 100 employees, the value of the business is not required to be reported.

One of the advantages of completing the application online is that you are asked only the questions that are relevant to your particular situation.

Step Three asks questions to determine your dependency status. If you are over age 23, you will not see Step Three because you are independent by age.

Step Four is for parental information and will not be seen by independent students.

Step Five asks how many people are in your household. Include yourself and your spouse if you are married. Include your children if you will provide more than half of their support between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. You can also include other people if they live with you and you will provide more than half of their support during the upcoming year.

Step Six asks you what schools you would like the information sent to. You can include up to ten schools. Most schools will not begin processing your financial aid until you have been admitted to the school.

Finally, Step Seven is your signature. You will need to create a PIN number. This will allow you to electronically sign the form. You can do so by visiting http://www.pin.ed.gov/.

The FAFSA website provides instructions and information throughout the process of completing the application. You can click on most words to see definitions or more information. In addition, you can use the FAFSA Live Help to instant-message someone for assistance Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to midnight, and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Eastern time): http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/contact.htm.

Student Aid on the Web http://studentaid.ed.gov/ is a helpful resource for financial aid information. It is also a good idea to visit the financial aid office website for the school you are applying to. It will have additional information and school-specific timelines.

Financial Aid Application Checklist