How to get more money from FAFSA

Not happy with the money your school awarded you? Here are five ways to get more financial aid. (iStock)

With the costs of a four-year college education clocking in at tens of thousands of dollars per year, it’s no surprise that a large portion of today’s students need financial aid to get by.

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The Free Application for Financial Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA, is the key to getting that aid — at least at the federal level.

5 ways to get more money from FAFSA

You painstakingly filled out your FAFSA, awaited its processing, and checked your email religiously for that award letter. Once it comes, you’re disappointed in the result. Your aid isn’t enough to cover your full costs of attendance.

DO YOU QUALIFY FOR FAFSA?

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to increase your aid award. Here how to do it:

Be smart about filing your taxes. The more income your household makes and the more assets it holds, the less aid you’ll be eligible for. Make sure this is considered when filing your annual taxes. Are there ways to reduce your income? Could your family avoid taking profits on any investments until after you’ve filed? Doing so may make you eligible for more financial aid.

Update your FAFSA after you file your taxes. If you filed the FAFSA before your annual taxes were done, you’ll want to update the form once they’re filed — especially if you’ve taken steps to lower your income or assets. Log into your FAFSA account and head to the “Make FAFSA Corrections” to update your form.

Update it again if anything changes financially. Your aid is based on the information you put on your original FAFSA — and if that info changes, you need to update it ASAP. Did a parent lose a job or see their wages reduced? Did an emergency come up and deplete your savings? Make sure your FAFSA reflects that. It could have a big impact on your award.

ARE STUDENT LOANS TAXABLE INCOME?

Update your school directly, too. You should also alert your college if something changes. Detail any financial changes your household has experienced in a letter, and mail it to your school’s financial aid office ASAP. It will likely change what aid you’re eligible for.

File an appeal. You can contact your school’s financial aid office and officially appeal your financial aid award, too. Write a letter explaining your family’s financial situation, detail how much more in additional aid you need to attend and consider asking for a matched award if another school offered you more.

If you haven’t yet filed your FAFSA form, do so ASAP. The earlier you file, the better, as it means you’ll likely be among the first across the desk of your school’s financial aid office. More funds will be available, and you may receive more aid as a result. You can submit your FAFSA as early as October 1, so mark it on your calendar if you’ll be filing yours this year.

What’s the maximum amount of money FAFSA gives?

FAFSA has a maximum threshold for each of its three aid options. With Pell Grants, you can get up to $6,195 per year, while Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs) offer up to $4,000. With federal loans, you can get anywhere from $5,000 to $20,500 per year, depending on where you’re at in your school education and whether you’re a dependent or not.

HOW STUDENT LOANS CAN AFFECT YOUR CREDIT SCORE

Other ways to help pay for college

Of course, the FAFSA isn’t the only way to pay for that higher degree. You can also look to private student loans or personal loans, apply for scholarships through your school or community organizations, or cash in on your home equity.

Savings accounts are typically your best option though, as you won’t pay interest to use these funds. If you’re still a ways out from attending university, a 529 college savings plan can be a great option. Though they’re more commonly used for younger children, you can technically start one at any time to start saving up money for your education.