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FAFSA on the Web: The Road to $86 Billion Starts Here

Chris Diehl, FastWeb

The U.S. Department of Education provided more than $86 billion in student financial aid in 2006-2007 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). But you won’t see a penny of that unless you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can simplify the process with FAFSA on the Web.

Are You Still Using Paper?

If you have access to the Internet, either in your home, school, local library or other source, you will want to fill out the FAFSA online.

There’s really no difference in terms of content between the paper and online forms, but for accuracy and speed, FAFSA on the Web offers distinct advantages:

• You can receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) in less than a week if you provide an email address. You’ll have to wait two to three weeks if you don’t. File a paper FAFSA and you’ll can end up waiting up to six weeks.

FAFSA on the Web’s automatic “edit check” finds errors on your application then prompts you to fix mistakes.

• There are fewer questions on the online application.

• Once you complete FAFSA on the Web, you’ll get a confirmation number that proves you successfully submitted the application.

More information is available on the FAFSA Web site. The site also offers information to answer other questions you may have. Apply for a PIN

Your PIN allows you to sign your FAFSA electronically and check your application’s status online. If you sign with your PIN and supply a valid email address, you’ll receive your SAR to that email address in less than a week. Anyone with a valid Social Security Number who is a U.S. citizen (or eligible non-citizen) can apply for a PIN on the US Department of Education’s PIN registration Web site.

It used to be that when you applied for your PIN electronically, it would take up to three days to receive an email with instructions on how to retrieve your PIN.

As of January 1, 2008, those days are gone. When you apply for your PIN on or after that date, you can obtain your PIN in real time (assuming you supply an accurate social security number). No more waiting around for it to arrive.

The length of time it takes to receive your Student Aid Report after you’ve submitted your FAFSA can vary depending on whether you submitted your FAFSA results online or printed them out and sent them via regular mail, and also whether you electronically signed the FAFSA with your PIN or signed it by hand. If you go the electronic route, you can usually receive your SAR in one to two weeks; if you go the paper route, expect to see your SAR in about four to six weeks.

FAFSA Made Faster

FAFSA on the Web also offers features that are only available online:

• Sample worksheet: Completing the worksheet insures you’re organized when you start the online application. The order of questions on the paper FAFSA differs from the Web version. So use the worksheet, not a paper FAFSA, as a guide.

• Save a copy: Can’t finish your FAFSA in one sitting? No problem. Save what you’ve already completed and come back. Take care to remember your password. If you forget it, you’ll be forced to start over since the Department of Education doesn’t keep a record of passwords.

• Electronic signature page: You can sign the FAFSA electronically using your PIN number.

• Make corrections: Once you receive your SAR, you may need to make corrections. FAFSA on the Web enables you to make corrections online.

• Check your status: Using your PIN, you can check whether your FAFSA was received, completed, is in process of being completed, or is in rejected status.

Renewal FAFSA on the Web

If you filled out the FAFSA last year, you may be eligible to fill out a shorter version known as the Renewal FAFSA on the Web. The Renewal FAFSA on the Web has fewer questions to answer and is available on the FAFSA Web site.

Other Tips

As with the paper FAFSA, if you file your FAFSA online, you’ll want to complete it as soon after January 1st as possible. Many colleges give priority to students who submit their FAFSA applications early, especially if funds are scarce; don’t miss out on possible aid because you procrastinated.

You can call the Department of Education Help Desk toll-free at: 800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243) if you have questions about the FAFSA on the Web or your PIN. Remember that FAFSA on the Web, applying for a PIN and using the 800 number are free services.

No matter if you’re a returning college student filling out the renewal form or a high school senior filling out the FAFSA for the first time, print out a copy for your records. A paper copy can come in handy if you need to reference anything later.

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