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Financial Assistance Office makes FAFSA process easier

April 3, 2008

Filling out FAFSA forms may seem straightforward, but there are some things to keep in mind to get the best possible results from the process.

Sandra Oftedahl, director of the UW-River Falls Office of Financial Assistance, encourages all students to submit a FAFSA.

“Every student who applies and meets the minimum requirements receives aid,” Oftedahl said. “And it’s free.”

Sophomore dairy science major Trisha Koenen submitted a FAFSA before her freshman year, but she qualified for little student aid. Koenen said she pays for her education out of her own pocket.

Students like Koenen who previously didn’t qualify for aid should still submit a FAFSA every year, Oftedahl said.

“I’d say, things change from year to year and it doesn’t take much time to fill out an application,” Oftedahl said.

Freshman Brynn Ribbens said she will submit her FAFSA for the 2008-2009 school year—eventually.

“I’ll do it some other day,” Ribbens said. “Today’s got too much in it.”

Oftedahl recommends that students resist the temptation to put off completing their FAFSAs.

The Financial Assistance Office’s recommended target date—March 15, 2008—for submitting a FAFSA for the 2008-2009 school year has already passed, though the federal deadline for submitting isn’t until June 30, 2009.

There is a fixed amount of grant money and some other types of student aid available, and the only way students can be sure to get the maximum amount for which they qualify is to submit as early as possible.

Often a student will wait to fill out their FAFSA because they haven’t yet received a copy of their parent’s tax forms, Oftedahl said.

Isaac Russell, a political science major, said that the fact that he doesn’t live with his mother anymore has made it difficult for him to access her W-2 information.

Students in this situation should estimate the numbers as best as they can and submit their FAFSAs now to ensure maximum access to available aid. Then, they should let their parents know they need to see their tax returns as soon as possible and set up an hour or so to meet with them, Oftedahl said.

Students can update tax information online once they know the actual values.

“Some of the questions can get pretty complicated because they ask about a lot of things students aren’t familiar with,” Oftedahl said. “But that’s why we’re here [at the Financial Assistance Office]. We can help.”

The two FAFSA reminders most frequently repeated when students stop by the Financial Assistance Office are the need for all students to file a FAFSA and the importance of them doing this as soon as possible, Kevin Bullis, a counselor in the Financial Assistance Office, said.

Students also tend to have a lot of questions about eligibility for grants and the differences between different loan types and payment plans, Bullis said.

For help answering specific questions, students can call the Financial Assistance Office at 425-3141, or the FAFSA customer service line at 1-800-433-3243. Otherwise, students can meet in person with someone from the Financial Assistance Office for a one-on-one FAFSA counseling session.

“Walk-ins are great,” Oftedahl said. “We love walk-ins.”

Students can also use the computer in the Financial Assistance Office to fill out their FAFSAs if they think they may have questions throughout the process.

No matter where a student fills out their FAFSA, they need to beware of scams, Oftedahl said.

Students should avoid www.fafsa.com and discard mailers that promise to deliver FAFSA results early for a fee. Filling out a FAFSA is supposed to be entirely free, and any Web site or letter that demands money for processing a FAFSA isn’t legitimate.

The proper Web site for submitting a FAFSA online is www.fafsa.ed.gov.