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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a must-do for U.S. college and university students. It’s the first step toward getting student loans, as well as other federal, state, and college-specific scholarships and grants.

The FAFSA for the 2019–20 school year has been available since Oct. 1, 2018. So you can fill it out right now.

The FAFSA deadline is far away, but…

The FAFSA deadline is still a ways off. To be considered for federal student aid, you need to submit the FAFSA by midnight CST on June 30, 2020. But if you need financial aid before the fall 2019 semester, you should submit it long before then.

It’s also important to mention that this is just the federal deadline. Many states have their own financial aid programs, including grants and scholarships, with their own deadlines. A few have already passed, but there are some in June. Check this document to find your state’s deadlines for the 2019–20 school year. Your school may have its own financial aid programs with different deadlines, too.

In a nutshell, the best time to fill out the FAFSA for the 2019–20 school year is as soon as you possibly can.

Even if you’ve missed your state’s deadlines, it’s not too late to fill out the FAFSA. You can still qualify for federal aid, and some programs give out aid on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s still important to get the form in sooner rather than later.

What types of financial aid can you get by filling out the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is best-known as the first step toward getting federal student loans and grants. It’s required to qualify for federal student loans like Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and PLUS Loans. The information in your FAFSA can also qualify you for need-based financial aid like Federal Pell Grants.

However, that could be just a starting point. Many states, colleges, and universities have their own scholarship and grant programs. The FAFSA is a requirement for consideration in these programs.

It’s also important to mention that the FAFSA isn’t a one-time requirement. To continue qualifying for financial aid, you’ll need to fill out a new FAFSA every year.

How to fill out the FAFSA

The easiest way to complete the FAFSA is on the Federal Student Aid website. You can also use the myStudentAid mobile app on iOS or Android. There’s a forecaster tool that estimates your eligibility for federal student aid, too.

Before you start, it’s a good idea to create a Federal Student Aid ID, which allows you to sign your FAFSA electronically and expedite its processing. One of your parents will need an ID if you’re a dependent student (this is determined as you’re filling out the FAFSA).

You’ll also need to list at least one school to receive your eligibility information. If you haven’t decided which college you’ll attend, you can list up to 10 in the online application.

To complete the form, you’ll need your

  • Social Security number,
  • driver’s license number,
  • recent tax returns (the FAFSA can automatically transfer these from the IRS), and
  • balances of bank and investment accounts.

Dependents will need this information for their parents, as well.

Don’t wait to start your FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA can be a lot of work, and that might make you put it off. But don’t wait to get started -- completing the form can take a while, and it’s crucial to hit those deadlines.

If you haven’t started, it’s not too late. Head to the Federal Student Aid website and get started!