What does FAFSA cover?

Financial aid can help pay for books and other college-related expenses (iStock)

Financial aid can cover a host of expenses to help pay for your college education. While it covers your yearly tuition and fees, which will be the largest chunk of your college costs, you can also use financial aid to cover most other expenses associated with the cost of attending college.

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Since you will need a place to live while in college, whether it’s in a dormitory on campus with a meal plan or an off-campus apartment where you need to buy groceries, financial aid funds can be applied toward your housing and meals. It also covers the cost of the supplies needed for classes such as books, special lab equipment and a computer.

Other little-known college-related expenses, including transportation costs associated with commuting to college, child care, and health care, can also be paid for with funds from your financial aid package.

FINANCIAL AID AWARD LETTERS: WHAT TO KNOW AND HOW TO COMPARE

Although the federal student loan program makes college more affordable by providing access to more than $150 billion in grants, work-study, and student loans, many people don’t know how to get started and fail to apply.

The very first step to applying for financial aid should be getting familiar with FAFSA. Through FAFSA you can find out if you’re eligible to receive federal student loans, federal grants that don’t have to be repaid or money through work-study programs.

What does FAFSA stand for?

FAFSA is the acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the government’s solution for helping to make college more affordable for undergraduate and graduate students.

The FAFSA application for the 2020-2021 school year is available now.

How do you submit a FAFSA?

  • Gather documents such as your social security number, driver’s license or state ID, (alien registration number for non-U.S. citizens,) parent’s income if you’re a dependent or your income proof such as recent W2s and bank statements.
  • Go to the FAFSA website to create your login information by using your email address and choosing a username and password. This will give you a Federal Student Aid (FSA) identification number.
  • Complete the financial section and information requested for the student and the parent.
  • Provide you and your parents’ financial information. To make it easier, eligible students and parents can automatically transfer their tax information into the FAFSA form by using the IRS’ data retrieval tool (DRT)
  • In the school selection section, list the schools you plan on applying to because this will send your FAFSA information to them.

STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT PLANS: HOW TO PICK THE BEST ONE FOR YOU

Blaine Blontz, the founder of Financial Aid Coach in Philadelphia, highlighted a common misperception: that students think they are receiving a loan offer for the entire remaining cost of college, when in fact, the school is just showing a placeholder loan that is theoretical.

“Essentially, the school provides whatever it does in financial aid and then says the student can take out a loan for the remaining cost,” he said, adding that’s not always stated clearly on the award letters, which causes confusion among families who think that they have a certain amount of loans guaranteed to pay for the remaining cost of college.

In the event financial aid doesn’t cover all your needs, Blontz said students can try alternative loans through private banks, the Parent PLUS Loan for incoming freshmen, and apply to campus work-study programs to help pay the remaining costs.

“Schools also generally provide payment plan options that allow families to spread remaining payments over several months,” he said, adding that this alleviates the need to come up with a larger lump sum upfront.

The government warns borrowers that some states and schools have limited funds, so you should apply as soon as possible. Moreover, many states have priority deadlines or dates that you must submit the FAFSA form to be considered for the aid programs they administer.

Read the instructions carefully and don’t be one of the many people who make financial aid mistakes each year by not filling out the application properly, or worse, not applying at all.