5 Things You Need to Start Your FAFSA Application

First, the bad news…Higher education isn’t getting cheaper. According to recent reports, student-loan debt just hit an all-time high: $1.4 trillion.

Now for the good news! As of October 1, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is available. The FAFSA is a one-stop shop that determines a student’s eligibility for all federal financial aid, including loans and work-study programs, as well as grants and scholarships (which you don’t have to pay back!).

So if you’re headed to college next year and want to minimize your debt, fill out the FAFSA ASAP. Not sure how to start? Here are five things you’ll need:

1. FSA ID

The easiest and fastest way to fill out the FAFSA is online at fafsa.gov. To get started, you’ll need your FSA ID, which is your username and password. Note: parents of dependent students (see #4 below) will need to create their own FSA ID in order to sign your child’s FAFSA form online.

2. The Names of Schools You Want to Attend

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be 100-percent sure about your college options. Enter up to 10 schools that you’re considering. If you change your mind later, you can easily remove the school from the list. Didn’t get accepted? The school can just disregard your FAFSA application.

3. Personal and Financial Information

You knew this was coming… To complete the FAFSA, you have to spend some time entering data. Personal information includes items like your social security and driver’s license numbers. However, dependent students also have to enter their parents’ tax return info from last year.

4. Dependency Status

If you’re in high school and live at home, you’re most likely considered a dependent. That means you need to report information about your parents.

But here’s where it gets more complicated. Even if you live on your own and support yourself, you still may be considered a dependent for the purposes of the FAFSA. Make sure you review the application guidelines and determine what category best describes you.

5. A Secure Connection

It probably goes without saying, but if you’re filing your FAFSA online, make sure you do it over a secure Internet connection. In other words, don’t use public WiFi.

Libraries, coffee shops, outdoor spaces—open connections are much more vulnerable to hackers. If your personal information is stolen, it could lead to identity theft and put you and your parents in financial jeopardy.