12 Steps to Filling out the FAFSA Form 2021-2022

For many people, one of the first steps to applying for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®. This form helps the government determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, as well as grants and work-study opportunities.

Completing The 2021-2022 FAFSA Application

The FAFSA form 2021 may look a bit different if you’ve filled out the form in the past. That’s because of the FAFSA® Simplification Act, which was passed in December 2020 and designed to make the FAFSA more accessible for lower-income students and families. While most of these changes won’t go into effect for the upcoming FAFSA cycle, we’ll point in this article a few changes to FAFSA you will see this year.

Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA

12 Steps to Fill Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022 for the 2021/2022 academic year. However, FAFSA deadlines may vary depending on the states and schools you’re applying to, so you may want to check with each school to confirm their FAFSA deadline. If you’re ready to fill out FAFSA, we’ve outlined steps required in the process.

Not ready to fill out the FAFSA? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator to give you an idea of what filling out the actual FAFSA will be like and to estimate your expected student aid package.

1. Required Documents Ready

Before even loading the online FAFSA form, it may be useful to have all your required documents in order to make the application process even easier. The things you’ll need may include:

•   Social security or alien registration ID

•   Drivers license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents for both yourself and your parent(s) if you’re a dependent (more on that later)

•   Bank statements

•   Untaxed income

•   Title IV Institution Codes for schools you’re applying to (again, more on that later)

•   Download app, if you plan on applying on mobile (you can also apply on desktop)

Dependent students will also need to provide similar information for their parents.

2. FSA IDs

There’s one more thing you’ll need in order to apply for FAFSA, and that’s a federal student aid ID, or FSA ID . This is simply the username or password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if you need to enter parental financial information, whoever is providing that financial information will also need to create an FSA ID .

3. Basic Information

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log in and get started. The first few steps of FAFSA will be filling out basic information. The site or app will first ask you if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one applies to you. You should then be prompted to provide the following:

•   Your full name

•   Date of birth

•   Social security number

4. Starting the Application

Once you fill in this information, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to either start a FAFSA for 2021-2022 or 2020-2021. If you’re filing FAFSA for the upcoming year and are not currently enrolled in college, you should choose “Start 2021-2022 FAFSA.”

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is simply a four-digit code you’ll use to save your application. If you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, then you’ll be asked to enter your save key to continue filling it out at a later date.

5. Section 1: Student Information

Next, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself, including (but not limited to):

•   Social security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Home address

•   State of residence

•   Citizenship status

•   High school completion status

•   College degree level

•   If you’d like to be considered for work-study

6. Section 2: College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to find the federal school code for each school you want your information sent to. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and use it to provide you a financial aid package. You can find this code either on the school’s website or by searching for it on the FAFSA form itself.

7. Section 3: Dependency Status

You can either apply to FAFSA as a dependent of your parents or as an independent. If you’re a first-time college student and will graduate from high school in 2022 and/or are under 24 years old, you’ll most likely need to file as a dependent, meaning you’ll need your parents’ financial information to apply.

Section 3 of the FAFSA will help you determine if you’re an independent or dependent student. You’ll need to provide some more information about yourself, such as your marital status, if you have children or other dependents, and if you’re at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness.

Once you’ve filled out this information, FAFSA should display a message that determines whether or not you’re considered a dependent and therefore need parental financial information to determine expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

(Note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.)

8. Section 4: Parental Information

If you need parental information for FAFSA, you’ll include that in this section. Information you’ll need includes (but is not limited to):

•   Parental marital status

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Parent social security number

•   Parent name

•   Parent date of birth

•   Parent email address

•   Parent’s spousal information for all of the above

•   Household size

9. Section 5: Parent Financials

Next, you’ll need to provide some financial information about your parents. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

10. Section 6: Student financials

Now it’s time to provide some financial information about yourself. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

11. Check for errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you should receive a FAFSA summary. Before hitting submit, you may want to ensure that all the information you included is accurate. Reviewing this information closely may help avoid filing a FAFSA correction later.

12. Agreement of Terms

The FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent(s) also provided information because you filed as a dependent, they will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent(s) will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve accepted the terms, your FAFSA will be complete.

Sample FAFSA Form for 2021/2022

Do you need some extra help? FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit is rich with resources and information. Some documents include step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA on the website and mobile app, lists of tips for filling out the FAFSA, question-and-answer documents, and more. You can also view a sample FAFSA form or a presentation on how to fill out FAFSA using the mobile app.

This student aid report may also be useful if you need to see another FAFSA sample form.

Recommended: How much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

What’s Different About the 2021/2022 FAFSA

As previously discussed, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed last December resulted in a few changes to FAFSA. However, most of these changes won’t go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. For FAFSA 2021-2022, major changes include the following:

•   Automatic-Zero EFC: FAFSA will give all applicants with an income of $27,000 or less an EFC of zero, meaning FAFSA does not expect families to help pay for the applicant’s college. This amount increased $1,000 from last year, which set the cut-off at $26,000, so more students should be able to receive a EFC of zero.

•   Schedule 1 Questions: When populating tax information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will automatically answer whether or not the applicant filed for a Schedule 1.

Additional changes are already scheduled for the 2022/2023 FAFSA form, such as drug convictions no longer negatively affecting one’s ability to get financial aid. Additionally, registration status for Selective Service for eligible males will also no longer be considered for financial aid. You can review the latest changes to the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing the FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. For those filing for the first time, you may want to check out this 2021-2022 FAFSA guide and some FAFSA tips to make the process even easier. If you need some more help on how to fill out FAFSA 2021/2022, some tips from StudentAid.Gov include:

1.    Completing the form: It can be tempting to skip the FAFSA altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or upper-class family and you believe you won’t be eligible for aid. However, falling for this assumption could mean leaving aid on the table.

2.    Paying attention to deadlines: As stated earlier, FAFSA 2021/2022 opens Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. However, the schools you’re applying to may require you to fill out the FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to ask each school’s financial aid office about what their FAFSA deadlines are to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool auto-fills your latest tax information from the IRS database. When you fill out FAFSA, you’ll have the option to either fill out your tax data manually or use the tool. Using the tool could help you avoid making costly mistakes while also saving you time.

4.    Filling out every section: Not sure how to fill out a section? FAFSA offers helpful tips throughout each section of the FAFSA form to make filling out the FAFSA easier. Additionally, not filling out a section of FAFSA could result in your form not being submitted or you receiving less financial aid.

5.    Double-checking the form: Before you submit, you may want to go back and double-check your answers to make sure everything is filled out and is accurate.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider private student loans. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s Private Student Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev

FAFSA photos credit: FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit


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External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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Source: sofi.com

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car – 10 Simple Steps

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Do you recognize this scenario? You’re planning to rent a small car for a vacation or business trip. Yet somehow, when you walk away from the car rental counter, you’re holding the keys to a much bigger car with a much bigger price tag. 

If this has happened to you, it was no accident. You were a victim of upselling — one of the many tricks car rental companies use to squeeze more money out of you. They lure you, scare you, or badger you into driving away with a bigger car than you planned. 

To save money on car rentals, you need to beat the agencies at their own game. First, do some research to figure out exactly what car you need. Then, shop around and use discounts to make sure you pay the lowest possible rate for it. 

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car

Getting the best rate on your car rental is largely a matter of doing your homework. You have to know what kind of car you need, when to book it, and where to shop for the best prices. You also need to know how to avoid tricky upsells and hidden fees.

1. Know What You Need

If you’ve ever rented a car before, you know rental companies often try to upsell you. When you arrive to pick up your vehicle, they don’t hand over the keys right away. 

Instead, they suggest you upgrade to a larger model than the one you booked. Often, they say it will offer more comfort, more power, or even better gas mileage. 

That last statement is unlikely to be true. In general, bigger cars use more gas than smaller ones. If you let the rental clerk talk you into a bigger model, you’ll end up paying more for gas and the car itself.

As for the extra room and extra power, they probably don’t matter. If you’re driving by yourself or with just one or two other people, a compact car should have enough space. And you’re unlikely to need more power unless you’re planning to drive up steep mountain roads or in deep snow.

If there’s any doubt in your mind about how much car you need, do some research before you book. Look for reviews of the model you’re considering and see what owners say about its comfort, mileage, and power. 

Then, when the clerk starts trying to sell you on a bigger model, you can say with confidence that the one you booked is just fine for your needs.

2. Book Early, Especially During Peak Travel Times

Car rental companies have a limited number of cars in their fleets. During peak travel times, every vehicle is in demand as customers flock to travel destinations. And when demand outstrips supply, prices go up. That’s simple economics.

So if you’re traveling during a busy travel season, reserve your car as far in advance as possible. You’ll avoid paying a premium for booking during the busy season or, worse still, finding the vehicle you want is unavailable.

3. Take Advantage of Discounts

Never pay full price for a rental car without checking for discounts first. There are all kinds of programs that can offer you a better price on a rental, including:

  • Military Discounts. Many car rental companies, including Alamo and Budget, offer discounts for military service members and veterans. Some also have special deals for other government employees or first responders, such as firefighters and police. If you belong to any of these groups, always ask about discounts when booking a rental.
  • USAA Rates. If your spouse or parent is in the military, you could get a discount through USAA. This financial provider serves active military members, veterans, and their spouses and children. Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz have special USAA rates. 
  • Senior Discounts. Several rental car agencies work with AARP to provide discounts for older adults. AARP members can save up to 30% at Avis, Budget, and Payless. And all travelers over 50 can get lower prices from Hertz through its Fifty Plus program.
  • Corporate Codes. Many businesses have partnerships with car rental companies. Their employees get better rates, and the agencies benefit from the extra business. Check your corporate travel site to see if your company has such a program. 
  • University Codes. Universities also cut deals with rental car agencies. Both students and alumni can get lower daily rates and other perks, such as a free additional driver. Check the student benefits or alumni deals page for rental car discounts.
  • Frequent Flyer Programs. Some frequent flyer programs can get you a reduced rate on a car rental. For instance, United MileagePlus members enjoy discounts and earn bonus miles when they rent through Hertz.
  • AAA. Being a member of AAA gets you discounts on all kinds of services, including rental cars. Currently, members can save between 8% and 20% off the base rate with Thrifty, Dollar, or Hertz. Check your local AAA website for the latest deals.
  • Costco. This warehouse club offers discounts on a lot more than groceries. One of the many benefits of Costco membership is its discounts on car rentals from Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. Visit the Costco Travel site to access the latest exclusive deals.

4. Join a Loyalty Program

Many rental car agencies have loyalty programs that offer various discounts and perks. Most loyalty programs are free to join, and it takes only a few minutes to sign up.  

Joining one of these programs could get you benefits like:

  • Free upgrades
  • The ability to skip the line when you pick up your rental
  • A guarantee the car you sign up for will be available
  • An account that stores your rental preferences for future use
  • Rewards points you can cash in for free rentals or upgrades

And there’s nothing to stop you from signing up for multiple programs. You could join one for each rental agency you use. In fact, if you’ve already reached elite status with one company, you can usually carry over that status when you sign up for another agency’s program as well.

Some agencies, such as Avis and Hertz, also have special programs just for small-business owners. If you own a small business, these programs can give you a percentage off the base price every time you rent a car.

5. Compare Prices

Joining a loyalty program doesn’t mean you have to be loyal to one car rental company. It always makes sense to shop around and see if another company can offer a better price.

You could do that by calling several companies for quotes, but you don’t have to. There are several websites you can use to check rental prices across multiple agencies. 

One leading comparison site is AutoSlash. This free site factors in discounts from AAA and Costco and searches for online coupons to cut your rental price. It even notifies you if the rental rate drops after you book your car. That allows you to cancel it and rebook at the lower price.

However, AutoSlash isn’t the only site in the business. Other places to look for deals include CarRentals.com, Kayak, and Priceline.

6. Check Smaller Car Rental Companies

When you’re comparing prices, don’t limit yourself to the major rental car agencies. Small off-brand agencies such as Fox Rent A Car can offer significantly lower rates than the big companies.

These small agencies aren’t available everywhere, and they may not show up in results from sites like AutoSlash. But if there’s one in your area, it’s worth a call to see if they can beat the big companies’ prices. To find small local agencies, search the Internet for “car rental near me.”

7. Look for Coupon Codes

When you’re searching for rental car prices, do an extra search for coupon codes you can tack on at checkout. With the right code, you can save as much as 50% off the regular rental rate. 

On top of that, you can often combine these coupon codes with other discounts. For instance, they sometimes stack with savings from loyalty programs or frequent flyer programs.

If you shop through AutoSlash, it automatically seeks coupon codes for you. Other places to look for deals include Groupon and LivingSocial. Also, money-saving browser extensions like Capital One Shopping search for coupon codes and apply them every time you shop. 

8. Read the Fine Print

It’s not unusual to see online ads promising car rentals as low as $15 per day. These prices sound too good to be true — and they are. The price you pay is usually much higher due to taxes and fees excluded from the advertised rate. 

You can’t avoid all these extra fees. However, you can at least be aware of them to avoid any surprises. And you can always say no to extraneous car rental fees.

When comparing prices, look at the final price with all taxes and fees included. That way, you know you’re comparing apples to apples. 

9. Prepay

Most car rental companies offer two different daily rental rates: one for prepayment and a higher one for paying when you pick up the car (or simply renting on the spot). For instance, Budget charges rates up to 35% less when you pay ahead.

But despite the savings, prepaying isn’t always the smart move. If you prepay for your car and have to change your plans, you could get hit with a hefty cancellation fee. 

For instance, Alamo charges $50 for canceling a prepaid rental or $100 if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. Canceling a regular reservation is only $50 with less than 24 hours’ notice and free if you cancel earlier than that. 

To avoid these fees, don’t prepay for your rental unless your travel schedule is fixed.

10. Use a Rewards Card

Once you’ve decided which car to rent and where, there’s still one more way to save: by choosing the right card to pay with. Many travel rewards credit cards, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer special perks and discounts on car rentals. 

Depending on the card, you could pay a lower daily or weekly rate or earn extra rewards points. You could also get perks like free upgrades, free rental car insurance, a free additional driver, or a grace period on late returns.

Moreover, if you already have rewards points on one of these cards, you can sometimes get a bonus by cashing them in for travel deals, including car rentals. If your card offers a 50% bonus on travel, you could book a $30-per-day car rental with only $20 worth of rewards.


Final Word

There’s one tip that could potentially save you more than anything else. When planning your trip, think carefully about whether you need a rental car at all. 

In some cases, you can get by without a car. Instead, you can rely on a combination of rides from friends, public transportation, and ridesharing. 

That works particularly well if you only need the vehicle to get to and from the airport. In that case, paying by the ride is probably cheaper than renting a car that will spend most of the trip parked.

Another option is to take advantage of the sharing economy. It’s often possible to get a car through a peer-to-peer service like Turo for much less than a traditional rental. 

These services can offer access to vehicles rental agencies don’t have, such as sports cars or electric vehicles. And you don’t have to deal with any high-pressure sales tactics at the rental counter.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

7 Online Shopping Hacks to Save Money

There’s no question that shopping online is more convenient than shopping in-store, but sometimes you pay for that convenience in the form of shipping charges. With the holidays coming up, that cost difference can add up fast.

Thankfully, you can make up that difference by taking advantage of some tried-and-true online shopping hacks. Here are some of our favorite ways to save money when shopping online.

Download Money-Saving Browser Extensions

Rakuten, Capital One Shopping and Honey are some of the most popular browser extensions for saving money online. There are two ways that browser extensions can help: offering cash back on purchases and providing special coupon codes to save you money at checkout.

Capital One Shopping provides cash back, coupon codes and even shows if you’re getting a good deal on an item. If not, the extension will show where you can find a cheaper version.

When you download these browser extensions, they’ll pop up every time you visit an eligible site. For example, if you go to Target.com through the Rakuten extension, you can earn 1% cash back on your purchase in select categories.

Not every retailer provides cash back with these extensions, and some may have limits on which categories you can earn rewards with. For example, you often can’t receive cash back on electronics, toys or video games.

Different browser extensions may offer different rewards. For example, if you visit Walmart.com through the Capital One Shopping tool, you may receive 2% cash back in certain categories. But if you visit Walmart.com through the Rakuten extension, you’ll only earn 1% cash back.

That’s why it pays to download all three browser extensions and compare the various deals.

Pro-tip: Set up a holiday spending goal in the Mint app to help you stay on track.

Sign Up for Retailer Emails

Most online retailers offer a special welcome discount when you sign up for company emails, usually ranging from 10% to 20%. Visit the retailer website and wait for a pop-up that asks you to input your email address.

If you’re already an email subscriber to the retailer in question, search through your emails to see if you’ve received a coupon code recently. Check both your spam and trash folders since promotional emails often wind up there.

Abandon Your Cart

If you’ve ever put an item in your shopping cart and not checked out, you may have gotten an email for a special discount code. Many retailers will automatically send out these emails when the customer has abandoned their cart to entice them to complete the purchase.

Use this strategy to your advantage. Visit the retailer’s website, add the items to your cart and exit the browser. Within a day or two, you should receive an email reminding you about the purchase with an extra discount offer.

Not all retailers will provide a coupon if you abandon your cart, and an item in high demand may be sold out before you get the email. Still, it’s worth trying to see if you can snag a better deal.

Cash In Rewards Points

If you’re like some cardholders, you probably have credit card rewards points that you couldn’t redeem for travel purchases in 2020 and 2021. Instead of hoarding them for your next trip, redeem them for a digital gift card to use on purchases right now.

Cashing out for a gift card usually isn’t the most efficient way to use points, but it is a great strategy to save money on online purchases.

Reach Out via Social Media

If you’ve tried all the tricks mentioned above and still can’t find a discount, contact the company on social media. Twitter is usually the preferred method, but you can also try a private message on Facebook or Instagram.

Be polite, friendly and mention how you want to see if there’s a special sale or coupon. Not every company will respond with a discount code, but it only takes a few minutes to try.

Once, I posted a tweet about dying my hair purple using a specific at-home product. I received a discount code from its competitor in just a few hours.

Use a Rewards Credit Card

Many credit cards offer extra cash-back when you shop at participating retailers, usually ranging from 1% to 5%. For example, the Discover it® Cash Back card provides 5% cash back when you shop at Amazon.com.

Most cards provide a fixed cash-back percentage at all times, with special categories that earn an extra percentage. These categories often rotate every quarter.

The rewards may be given as a statement credit, miles you can redeem for travel or points you can use for digital gift cards. These cash-back rewards can be added on top of the browser extension or discount code.

Getting a new card in the mail can take up to two weeks, so apply soon if you want to earn rewards in time to buy holiday presents.

New cardholders may even qualify for an extra sign-up bonus, like $200 when spending $1,000 or 50,000 bonus points.

Follow Influencers on Social Media

Your favorite influencers will often post special discount codes that are only available through them. Follow influencers who shop at similar stores and check their Instagram stories daily to see if they’ve posted a code.

Search for hashtags related to the retailer you’re interested in to find influencers who provide special codes.

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Source: mint.intuit.com