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How and when to apply for the help you need to pay for college

While many parents and students are concerned over the COVID-19 pandemic, 78% of families with students returning to college say they plan to continue attending the school they attended last year. However, fewer families are filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA because they believe they won’t qualify for aid. Just 71% filed for academic year 2019-20—a decrease from 83% two years ago.

Federal student aid is not based on income alone. It can come in the form of grants (money for school you don’t have to pay back), work-study jobs, merit-based awards and loans. The FAFSA can be used to cover such expenses as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. You only need to submit one FAFSA a year and you’re automatically considered for aid from your state and intended schools as well.

If you or your child are considering attending a college or career school soon, it’s never too early—or too late—to start planning. Even though the government awards more than $120 billion in financial aid each year, it’s distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you’ll want to apply as soon as possible. You can apply for federally funded grants and work-study by submitting a FAFSA as early as October 1 of your senior year. Here’s what you need to know to ensure you’re taking full advantage of your aid opportunity.

FAFSA 2020 Infographic

Once you submit your FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report, which you should review for any mistakes. Any schools you listed on your FAFSA will receive your information, and they’ll send you an aid offer that outlines what assistance you could expect for the next year if you go to their school.

Financial aid is an important part of the college decision process. Once you know what aid you’ll receive – and what you’ll need to pay out of pocket – a Commerce banker can help you figure out a financial plan that works for you.

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