Education

Filling out the FAFSA for financial aid? Here’s how and where you can get help.

On Sunday, Oct. 22, college-bound students and their parents can get help filling out the federal financial aid form or FAFSA.
On Sunday, Oct. 22, college-bound students and their parents can get help filling out the federal financial aid form or FAFSA. TNS

One of the more stressful things students and parents must do to help them pay for college is fill out the financial aid form known as FAFSA.

FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the document used to determine if students qualify for state and federal financial aid for higher education.

Each year, financial aid professionals in North Carolina offer their help on what is known as FAFSA Day. This year, UNC-TV and the College Foundation of North Carolina is also putting on a live call-in event called “Focus on Financial Aid.” It will be from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22. Students and parents can call 1-800-595-2200, and talk to financial aid professionals including financial aid experts representing the community college system, and the private, and public four-year system, said Marcia Weston, associate director for outreach at the College Foundation or CFNC.

Ahead of the event, Weston offered some advice:

▪ Make sure to put in the right social security number. It should be the student’s number, not a parent’s number. Many students, fill out the form quickly, Weston says, and accidentally put in the incorrect number or one of their parents. If you make a mistake, you will find out when you receive your student aid report, and you’ll need to correct it.

▪ Hold on to your FSA ID. Since you can’t sign electronic documents by hand, you will need this to officially sign your FAFSA. While you will fill out your FAFSA each year, your FSA ID will stick with you. You can create your FSA ID here.

▪ This year it’s easier to retrieve your FAFSA ID. In the past there were “Three security questions, and students didn't always remember their security questions,” Weston said. That’s now changed. “They can choose an option to put their mobile number and through their mobile number they can access their ID. It's making it a lot easier for students who don’t write things down or don’t put things in the right place.”

There are no other major changes to FAFA this year, Weston said.

▪ If your school participates in “Finish the FAFSA,” you can get help from your school counselors. While counselors won’t be able to see any of your personal information, such as income or your social security number, they will be able to see if you’ve completed your FAFSA and if you’ve made any errors that you should correct. About 245 schools are currently participating, Weston said. To find out if your school is participating, just contact your school.

▪ If you’re the parent of a younger child, you can use this financial aid calculator to plan ahead and find out what your financial aid eligibility will be in years to come.

▪ You’ll be be able to upload your tax returns this year. During the application season last year, the Department of Education and the IRS suspended the use of their data retrieval tool over worries that it could be misused by identity thieves. The tool automatically fills in a FAFSA application with tax return information via a connection with the IRS. Without it, applicants had to transcribe tax information from their old returns. Those security concerns have been dealt with this year and the data retrieval tool is now back up and operating for the 2018-2019 cycle, Weston said.

▪ You should fill out your FAFSA as soon as possible. In addition to the specific deadlines of particular schools, state grants are awarded on a first come first serve basis. So, if you want to be eligible for these grants you’ll need to apply soon. The FAFSA forms became available on Oct. 1.

If you can’t call in on Sunday, you can still get help at the College Foundation of North Carolina’s FAFSA Day on Oct. 28. From 9 a.m. to noon on that date, there will be more than 50 events throughout the state where students and parents can meet with financial aid administrators. In Wake County, families can go to Meredith College, NC State University, William Peace College, St. Augstine’s University, Shaw University and Wake Technical Community College. To find out where they will be in your county and how to register, go to: https://www.cfnc.org/fafsaday.

For more information, call the College Foundation of North Carolina at 866-866-2362.

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