federal-student-aid-logoChanges now give the parents of prospective and current college students more time to file the information for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.

Iowa College Aid spokesperson, Elizabeth Sedrel says it’s a key part of preparing for school. “The FAFSA is really the gate toward any financial aid that you might get for college. It’s required for the Pell Grant, for some federal loans and even for about half of the state grants and scholarships that are available in Iowa,” Sedrel says. “So this is your first step. If you are looking to get help paying for college, FAFSA needs to be the first thing you that you do. The filing window opened at the start of this month and Sedrel says you should get it done as soon as you can.

She says if you fill it out now you won’t be rushed to get it done before the holidays, and she says for many colleges the deadline to apply for financial aid is March 1st. In the past you had to wait to file FAFSA until January 1st, and you needed current tax information

“Now with the window opening earlier, they are letting you use what they call prior, prior year taxes,” Sedrel says. That means you can use your 2015 tax information to file. Some students may think their parents make too much money for them to qualify for any aid. Sedrel says that shouldn’t keep them from filing.

“Everyone should file. No one should assume that they are not going to qualify for aid. Something like 85 percent of the people who file find out that they are eligible for some kind of aid to pay for college,” Sedrel says. “And it doesn’t cost anything to file the FAFSA, and for most people it takes under a half hour — so you are really out nothing if you should turn out to be in that very small minority who doesn’t get any aid. But for most people it turns out to be worth it.”

She says you go to FAFSA.gov to file and if you have questions or want some tips, you can go to the Iowa College Aid website at: iowacollegeaid.gov. New and returning college students need to file.

Sedrel says you have to file FAFSA for every year in which you hope to get aid to help pay for college. Sedrel says FAFSA is free just like the name says and you should avoid any websites that want to charge you to file.