By Amber Cobb — 

This is part three of a semester-long column series on the topic: budgeting in college.

It’s that time of the year again when you start hearing and seeing the acronym FAFSA everywhere (and hearing it said wrong pretty often too).

FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, wasn’t something I really understood until I filled it out for my fourth and final time.

First, it’s important to know what FAFSA can do for you. Remember that there are two different types of financial aid: merit-based and need-based. Merit-based financial aid comes in the form of scholarships and is based on your achievements. Need-based financial aid is based on your financial status and perceived ability to pay for college.

The FAFSA also provides grants (you don’t have to pay back) and loans (you do have to pay back) on a need-based criteria.

Michael Abboud, who works in the Financial Aid Office, said the most important thing is to fill out your FAFSA early. It opened for the 2018-2019 school year on Oct. 1, and because FAFSA is on a first-come first-serve basis, you’ll want to fill it out immediately in order to maximize your potential of receiving financial aid.

The 2018-2019 FAFSA will be completed using 2017 tax information since 2018 isn’t over yet. This prevents you from having to estimate and miscalculate your financial need situation.

One of my biggest frustrations toward FAFSA is that students who pay for school themselves, still must provide their parents’ financial information. However, Abboud said not ALL students have to do this.

The beginning of the FAFSA asks thirteen questions that inquire things like your major, marital status, degree level pursuit and economic background. From these questions it is then determined if you must provide your parents’ financial information. This is the most effective way to fairly distribute money to all of the students applying for financial aid.

It’s important to note there are circumstances where you may not be able to obtain your parents’ tax information. U of L’s financial aid office is willing to work with you if that is the case.

The U of L financial aid office provides helpful resources on their website including a FAFSA information checklist and a description of the new My Student Aid app. The app allows you to access your FAFSA on a smart phone or tablet.

You can also speak to someone in the financial aid office, including Abboud, about any questions you may have regarding FAFSA or other financial aid at (502) 852-5511.

Even if you’ve never gotten any money from FAFSA before, fill it out soon. Free money is always worth a try.