What you need to know about applying for the FAFSA

For many families, the FAFSA inspires dread — and worry about making mistakes.
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SPOKANE, Wash. — Every year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on Oct. 1.

It’s for students going to college the following year. It’s the financial aid form that the U.S. Department of Education uses to hand out more than $30 billion in grants each year.

Experts say the biggest mistake families can make is not filling it out.

“Families get so overwhelmed by the process that they don’t even complete the FAFSA,” says Jodi Okun, founder and president of College Financial Aid Advisors.

Sometimes families assume they won’t qualify for aid and think it’s not worth the time; for example, more than 40 percent of parents in a recent Discover survey who don’t plan to complete the FAFSA say it’s because they don’t expect to qualify for federal financial aid. But besides federal grants, colleges use the FAFSA to determine state aid, institutional aid, work-study, federal student loans and sometimes merit scholarships.

“First of all, they need to fill out that FAFSA form. Everybody kind of forgets that you have to do it every academic year. The academic year goes from July 1st to June 30, but it comes out the October prior,” Spokane Community College financial aid office program specialist Janice Rice said.

Some colleges require it to be on file. It’s almost always worth filling it out, and you need to fill it out ahead of each year you plan to enroll in college.

“There’s a big difference between a lot of people just assume that the FAFSA is just for need-based aid and that’s not the case. It’s actually how students qualify for federal student loans, which are at the lowest interest rate you can get.”

Here’s what students and parents need to do to complete the aid application, either online or on your phone through the myStudentAid mobile app.

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