Completing the FAFSA is a Family's First Step to Managing College Costs

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Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a key step families should take when preparing to pay for college. This application helps to determine the amount of federal and college aid a student may receive and allows them to apply for federal student loans. Federal loans have favorable repayment terms when compared to private loans and experts recommend maxing out on federal loans first.

Only after the FAFSA is completed can students access the best borrowing programs available.

    "While many high school seniors are engrossed in completing college applications, it's also important for them and their parents to be thinking about paying for school. Many will need multiple loans to cover the burgeoning costs of college," says Kevin Walker, cofounder and CEO of SimpleTuition, Inc., a company that helps students and parents make sense of education financing options. "Only after the FAFSA is completed can students access the best borrowing programs available."

Average tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose 6.6 percent this year, again outstripping increases in financial aid and pushing students into more borrowing, according to the College Board. With the cost of college continuing to skyrocket, thousands of families nationwide will require multiple loans each year to cover tuition and fees. One of the reasons families tap multiple loans, is that federal student loans, available in limited amounts, ARE worth the trouble of including in the package. The FAFSA is a necessary step toward accessing these loans.

Walker advises parents and students to consider the following:

Federal Stafford Loans are Available, Regardless of Need, but You Must Complete the FAFSA

Many families assume they won't be eligible for the financial aid programs governed by the FAFSA process. However, the federal Stafford loan - the most common student loan - is available to almost any student, regardless of need. To qualify for Stafford, you need to complete the FAFSA form. If the family is deemed 'needy' enough, the student may be able to borrow through the subsidized Stafford program, where no interest accrues during enrollment. If the student is going to borrow at all, don't leave this best-in-class loan on the table.

Do it Yourself and Do it Sooner than Later

The FAFSA form is not complicated. Just visit the U.S. Department of Education website to link to the online FAFSA. The sooner you complete the form, the more time you have to prepare for the tuition bill. Some even say that applying early gets you in queue for some school aid that may be available on a first-come, first-served base.

Be Prepared

Have the following information handy: federal tax return for parent and student (if you haven't filed your tax returns and don't have exact numbers for your 2007 income-and-tax situation, simply estimate your 2007 income); information on assets and other untaxed information; and the U.S. Department of Education PIN number assigned to you.

Advocate for Yourself and Ask Questions

If your circumstances change (change of assets, change of financial need, dependency status, job loss, etc.) contact your school's financial aid office as your expected contribution could decrease based on these factors. Don't hesitate to stand up for yourself if you think your "need" has increased.

For more information visit http://www.simpletuition.com and check out these articles on financial aid:

Understanding the Financial Aid Process

Tips on Filling out the FAFSA

About SimpleTuition, Inc.

Founded in 2005, SimpleTuition is dedicated to helping students and parents make sense of education financing options. SimpleTuition offers the leading independent and interactive solution for researching and comparing over 100 private, PLUS, Stafford, GradPLUS and Federal Consolidation loans from more than 45 lenders. The site has been recently featured on Kiplinger's Best List as the best financial services web site for student loans and as one of Fast Company's Top Web 2.0 sites. The company also holds awards for exceptional website development from the Interactive Media Council, Web Marketing Association and the International Academy of Visual Arts. SimpleTuition is headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts and is funded by Atlas Venture, IDG Ventures Boston and North Hill Ventures. For more information, visit http://www.SimpleTuition.com.

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