MISSOULA – The nation’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form that prospective and current college students must complete to receive federal funding for higher education from the U.S. Department of Education. The FAFSA is the major kicking-off point for the majority of educational funds, including some scholarships at many schools like the University of Montana. The U.S. Department of Education notes that students who submit a FAFSA application are more likely to attend college.

The FAFSA forms for the 2022-23 year are now available and should be completed and submitted by December, according to UM’s Financial Education Program. UM financial aid experts say that it typically takes about 40 to 45 minutes to complete the form for first-time users and about 20 minutes for current students to renew the form. To make that process a bit easier, UM financial aid staff share their top five tips for completing the FAFSA.

Tip No. 1: Secure a Federal Student Aid login.

Before you can complete the FAFSA online, you’ll need an account and login (your parents will, too) with the Federal Student Aid office found at https://studentaid.gov/. Federal Student Aid includes an online application to the FAFSA.

Tip No. 2: If you are under 24 years old, have a parent with you.

If you’re a dependent of your parents and intend to use your parent or guardian’s financial statements to quality for student loans, FAFSA is going to require a lot of information from them. This includes questions about the date your parents were married, their social security numbers and their birthdates. If you are not a dependent or if you’re over the age of 24, you can complete the form individually. UM provides a helpful drop-down menu for all questions related to parents and dependents.

Tip No. 3: Have 2020 tax information at-the-ready.

FAFSA requires up to the last two years from you or your parent’s tax information. It’s best to have tax transcripts readily accessible, either through the IRS website or by print.

Pro-tip: Fill out your information such as your home address and name exactly as it appears on tax documents. Don’t be surprised that filling in “avenue” vs. “street” or the name “Robert” vs. “Robby” can be a roadblock. Every piece of income information must read exactly as presented on personal tax forms.

Tip No. 4: Click the blue question mark icons.

It’s easy to feel confused by the details. Thankfully, the FAFSA form includes blue question mark icons at nearly every step. When you click on the blue question marks, content will automatically pop-up providing more information. For example, when FAFSA asks you to estimate how much capital you might own in assets, a blue question mark will take you to the definition of what, exactly, FAFSA means by assets.

Tip No. 5 : Make sure you’ve added UM and up to nine other schools.

FAFSA allows for the automatic submission of up to 10 accredited institutions of higher education. Even if you think you may not attend, UM financial aid experts recommend inputting all 10 schools where an applicant may consider attending. FAFSA automatically sends FAFSA information to those selected schools. If the applicant does not attend a particular school on their form, there is no negative consequence. Universities cannot personally request FAFSA forms. They must be listed on applicants form to receive the information.

Pro-tip: Be sure one of the schools on the form is the University of Montana.

UM’s Financial Education Program regularly delivers free, information sessions on FAFSA for current UM students and any prospective students or Montana high schools. Both UM’s Financial Aid  and Financial Education Offices are available for walk-in, phone and zoom counseling.