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WELLNESS TEAM: Happy New Year, Seniors. Time to Complete Your FAFSA!

Is college on the calendar for you in 2014? Start the year off right by completing your federal financial aid application NOW.

Congratulations, seniors! It is now 2014 — your graduation year! For many of you, college is just a few months away. And whether you were planning to apply for financial aid or not, all future college students should begin the new year by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is your doorway to federal grants, loans and work-study funds. Plus, many states, colleges and universities use this form in awarding their own financial benefits, both need-based and merit-based.

Filing your FAFSA is free. And don’t be intimidated; it is a relatively simple process. The key is to do it sooner rather than later. It may seem like a hassle, but procrastination can cost you. While there is no real deadline for completing the form, in many cases aid is awarded until it is all gone. That can happen fairly quickly — Kentucky state aid for example — and funds can dry up just a few weeks into the year.

To complete the form, you will need 2013 income and asset information for both yourself (student) and your parents, along with basic information like social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers … and a federal PIN.

What you DON’T need is just as important. You do not need to know for sure where you will go to college, what your major will be or even to have completed your 2013 tax returns. You can estimate the information and enter final data later. Don’t delay while waiting to complete tax returns.

So, it’s time to get started.

The first step is to apply for a Federal Student Aid PIN. This four-digit code will be used to sign your FAFSA application. Most likely, you and your parents will each need a PIN. This application requires only basic information, but it does take a few days to get your PIN, so go ahead and apply for that now.

>GO TO www.fafsa.gov* and click the “PIN Site” button on the top of the page to request yours.

Next, you will begin your FAFSA application. This will require the financial and other information. You do not need to know which college you will attend to complete the form, as you can select a number schools to receive your information. You also can add other colleges later, once you are closer to a decision.

>COLLECT the information listed below for both yourself and your parents. If you have filed 2013 taxes, you may be able to pull that information directly into the application. If not, you can complete the FAFSA application with estimated information, then update it with final numbers later.

1. Social Security Number (or Alien Registration Number for non-U.S. citizens).

2. Last year’s W-2s, tax records or estimated income information (2013).

3. Bank statements or records of any other investments.

4. Records of untaxed income, if applicable.

5. Federal Student Aid PIN. (You applied for this first, right?)

Once you have this information at hand, go back to www.fafsa.gov and click the “Start a New FAFSA” button. You’ll be on your way in no time. You can save your form any time and return to add information later.

The Federal Student Aid office estimates the form usually can be completed in about 30 minutes, but you might allow a little longer, especially the first time you fill it out. The FAFSA web site does a pretty good job of walking you through the process and gives you several options for help if you have questions.

Once your application is submitted, check your email box regularly for additional requested information or to find your Student Aid Report (SAR), which details certain aid, loans or grants you can receive.

Filling out forms may not seem like the most fun you can have on New Year’s Day, but you will thank yourself later, when you have your SAR in hand!

To learn more, go to: http://www.fafsa.gov. If you prefer not to apply on line, you can download a PDF form to submit by mail or request a paper FAFSA by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.

*Note: Do NOT go to www.fafsa.com unless you are seeking assistance from Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. There is a fee for submitting the FAFSA through this site. There is no charge for completing your form at www.fafsa.gov.

Source: FederalStudentAid, www.fafsa.gov.

Photo:  PDiaz via Dreamstime.com

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