Public News Service SEATTLE - If higher education is on your wish list in the New Year, some free assistance is available to help you decide how to pay for it. It all starts with two key forms that are used to determine a student's financial aid eligibility, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the Washington Application for Student Financial Aid (WASFA).
Trained volunteers and financial-aid experts are ready to help at more than 80 events across the state. Anna Batie, outreach program associate with the Washington Student Achievement Council, says filling out the forms can be a challenge.
"The FAFSA asks students and families some very detailed questions about finances and living situations," says Batie. "Even what we would think of as a basic question - 'Who is my parent?' - can have a very nuanced response on the FAFSA."
Batie says some financial aid deadlines are very early, so it's recommended students file their forms before Feb. 1.
She adds it can be confusing, but last year's income tax information, tax year 2013, is used to file the financial aid forms initially. Later, when student and parents have finished their 2014 taxes, the information can be updated online.
In addition, there are more details to round up to make the most of your time with a financial aid volunteer.
"Other items that are useful would be to gather current bank statements," Batie says. "If students or parents are receiving any federal assistance, to gather information about that. Any information about investments or college savings accounts, or things like that, should be brought as well."
The finished form allows the feds or state to give families an estimate of how much they're expected to contribute to the student's college cost, and how much financial aid they may be eligible for. Batie says there are so many options for grants, scholarships and loans that the applications are a worthwhile step.
The first "College Goal Washington" event is this Friday, Jan. 2 at Heritage University in Toppenish. Next week, there are events in about 15 communities. Find them online at readysetgrad.org.