Going back to school may be just want you need to get a better job, change careers or receive a promotion. Without financial aid, however, school may seem out of reach. Navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid can be frustrating, but you needn't let the application intimidate you. Your taxes do not need to be accepted before you file the FAFSA. There are situations in which you may want to file your FAFSA before you file your taxes.
Financial Aid Deadlines
Qualifying for federal financial aid begins with the FAFSA. The federal government, state government and your educational institution all set deadlines for their scholarships, loans and grants. Filing your FAFSA prior to the deadlines ensures that you qualify for the maximum amount of aid. It is better to guess at some of the FAFSA figures if necessary -- especially because you can correct them later -- and come in under the deadline than wait and miss out on a financial aid opportunity. The FAFSA website provides the federal and state deadlines for the current year. Contact your educational institution for its specific deadlines.
Estimate Your Income
If you haven't filed your taxes yet, you can fill out your FAFSA using your best guesses at the correct information. Use your bank statements and pay stubs to estimate your yearly income. You may use your previous year's tax return information if there are no significant income differences during the year. Once you submit your FAFSA, a Student Aid Report generates showing your estimated family contribution. Your school uses your SAR to determine the amount of aid for which you qualify.
IRS Data Retrieval Tool
After you file your taxes, log into your FAFSA account to amend your application. The FAFSA allows you to connect your application directly to the IRS system to pull your tax information into the application using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is not mandatory, however; you can simply input your information into the application. The DRT does speed up the process of completing your application. After your amend your application, a new SAR generates recalculating your estimated family contribution. The better your estimates were, the closer the two figures will be. A new SAR is emailed to you and a copy sent to your school.
Estimated FAFSAs are often subject to verification by your educational institution. Verification is a process where the financial aid department requires you send in a copy of your tax returns and fill out their verification paperwork to prove your income. Using the DRT reduces the chance you are called for verification for your financial aid.
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