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Filing federal FAFSA form is first step to getting money



Documents needed to fill out a FAFSA form: For the 2007-2008 school year, applicants will need the following financial information:

  • Social Security number and a driver’s license (if any)
  • 2006 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • 2006 Federal Income Tax Return IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Parents’ 2006 Federal Income Tax Return (for dependent student)
  • 2006 untaxed income records Social Security, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, welfare or veterans benefits records
  • Most recent bank statements
  • Most recent business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records
  • Alien registration number or permanent residence card (if you are not a U.S. citizen) Source:

Parents dealing with bills, mortgages, car loans and high school-age children universally wonder, “How on earth am I going to pay for my child to attend college?”

Experts say getting financial aid is easier than you think.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 63 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in U.S. schools and colleges in 2003-04 received some type of financial aid. About $82 billion in loans, grants and other assistance from the U.S. Department of Education will benefit more than 10 million students.

For many students, a combination of grants and loans puts higher education within reach.

Ninye El had no idea how she would pay for college. But to the relief of the Virginia Commonwealth University student, a financial aid package of about $17,000 in loans and $8,000 in grants covered her first year of out-of-state tuition and room and board at the Richmond institution. Her only out-of-pocket expenses were for her books. Getting financial aid, she admits, was easy. She started by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, which is a requirement for seeking any type of aid.

“Every parent/student should complete a FAFSA when they become available on January 1, even if you think you will not qualify,” says Lisa Branson, executive director of admissions and financial aid at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton. “Many colleges base their aid packages on the information in your FAFSA; some colleges require additional forms.”

Students can apply online at www. or turn in a paper copy. The FAFSA form also is available at your school guidance office and application is free. First-timers typically take about an hour to fill out the application electronically. If you have questions, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (800) 4-FED-AID or (800) 730-8913 (TTY) for the hearing impaired.

“You may elect to have FAFSA results sent to more than one college you’re considering,” says Branson.

When you complete your application online, you and if you’re a dependent, your parents will need a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to electronically sign your FAFSA. (Get a PIN at It takes three to five days to receive your PIN via e-mail.) Or you can print out and mail a “signature page” with proper signatures within 14 days.

Norfolk State University Director of Financial Aid Kevin Burns says, “Completing the FAFSA determines eligibility for federal aid and, in many instances, determines eligibility for state, institutional and local aid.”

Virginia Commonwealth University Director of Financial Aid Susan Kadir says the most common mistakes in seeking financial aid are missing deadlines, making errors on the aid application, not involving students in the process, not following up with the aid office to determine whether additional forms are needed and not reading communication from the financial aid office.

“The best advice when applying for aid is to know what forms and filing deadlines are required by each school the student is interested in and being sure to file required forms on time,” says Kadir. She says parents and students should understand the aid process at each school, which is generally found on its Web site.

“The U.S. Department of Education will process your completed FAFSA and send a report to you and to the colleges you identified on the form,” says Branson. “The Student Aid Report (SAR) is what colleges use to develop the financial package they will offer your child. When you receive a financial aid package, be certain to read and complete all the forms. Happily, many forms can be done online, making the process easier and faster”

Financial aid packages typically include federal aid, which falls in three main categories: loans (money you have to repay with interest), grants (money you never have to pay back) and work-study (optional).

Some popular grant and loan programs include:


  • Pell Grants given to undergraduate students only (with an exception for teacher certification students). Grants do not need to be repaid. Grants range from $400 to $4,050 for the July 1, 2006, through June 30, 2007, award year.
  • Direct and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Stafford Loans given to undergraduate and graduate students, up to $2,625 for first-year students. It increases for following years of school, with more funding available for graduate students. The interest rate is 6.8 percent fixed rate for loans made on or after July 1. Students receive either an “unsubsidized” loan (you will pay all the interest that accrues) or a “subsidized” loan (the government pays the interest on your loan until you leave college and your payments are due).
  • FFEL PLUS Loans and Direct PLUS Loan made to parents and professional/graduate students. The FFEL PLUS Loans and Direct PLUS Loans are “unsubsidized loans” (you pay the interest). FFEL PLUS loan funding comes from private lenders, while Direct PLUS loan funds are from the government through the school. The interest rate is 8.5 percent fixed rate for loans made on or after July 1. If parents can’t get a PLUS Loan, a student can borrow additional Stafford Loan funds.


Federal Work-Study, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and Federal Perkins Loans are programs offered by participating schools.

  • Federal Work-Study undergraduates and graduates are offered jobs to help them pay for school expenses.
  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants for undergraduates only. Awards range from $100 to $4,000.
  • Federal Perkins Loans low-interest loans at 5 percent. Maximum loan amount for undergraduates is $4,000; for graduate students, $6,000.

Students should ask if their college offers financial aid/assistance programs. For example, Virginia State University in Petersburg is offering a program to meet 100 percent financial need to qualifying students, who meet academic requirements and other criteria. The Low Income Families with Talented Students (LIFTS) program will provide 75 percent of the student’s need through scholarships and grants and limit student’s debt to loans to 25 percent of VSU’s in-state tuition.


  • Leveraging Education Assistance Partnership (LEAP) Program

Two new grant programs include:

  • Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG) program, $750 for the first year, and up to $1,300 for the second.
  • Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant program. Up to $4,000 can be awarded for the third and fourth years of undergraduate study (in addition to what you may receive from the Pell grant program). For more information go to and click “Funding Tab.” F

“For the beginning of next year, beginning July 1, 2007, loan limits increase for the federal loan programs for those students at the freshman or sophomore level,” says Russell D. Necessary, vice chancellor for enrollment management at University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

“Loan amounts will increase from $2,625 for freshmen to $3,500 per year, and loan limits will increase from $3,500 for sophomores to $4,500 per year. Loan limits for juniors and seniors will remain the same at $5,500 per year”


If you don’t qualify for federal aid, see if you can get help from the state. For Virginia, contact: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, James Monroe Building, Ninth Floor, 101 N. 14th St., Richmond, VA 23219, Phone: (804) 225-2600 or

Also, Mary Baldwin College’s Branson says if you’re a Virginia resident, “Your child will likely qualify for a Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) for private colleges”


Alternative loans come into play when students have met the federal loan limit or their parents do not qualify for a PLUS Loan, says Branson. “Alternative loans usually require a co-signer and are based on credit. Often these loans do not require payment until after the student leaves college.”

When Morgan Champion applied for a private loan for her tuition through a bank, the interest rate was high. A federal student aid loan had a lower interest rate so she went with that. The first-year law student at T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond had a scholarship to cover her undergrad years, but for grad school, the Grad PLUS loan is helping her.

An undergrad or grad student needing an alternative or private educational loan should drop by the financial aid office to seek recommendations. Experts also recommend seeing whether one’s bank offers private education loans. Sometimes a customer with a good bank history can help get a lower interest rate.

Necessary says, “There are private educational loan programs to help cover the gap between what students are eligible for in terms of student loans and the cost of college.”

Most of all, research and compare the loan options and consider the annual loan amount, interest rate, fees (such as disbursement and/or repayment fees), annual percentage rate, repayment terms/options and cumulative education debt limit.

For more information on private or federal loans or consolidation loans for college debt, visit

It is possible to get the financing you need to go to college. If you have questions, ask the financial aid office.

But most of all, start by filling out your FAFSA.

Sources:,,,, National Center for Education Statistics,,

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