AUGUSTA — The Finance Authority of Maine will hold 27 In-Person Free Application for Federal Student Aid Help Sessions around the state and has ongoing support online at FAMEmaine.com/FAFSA., according to a FAME news release.

FAME asked Mila Tappan, college access and outreach manager, to share five tips with families about how and when to get started. “Significant financial aid does exist,” said Tappan in the release, “so everyone considering college should fill out the FAFSA and any other required financial aid applications as soon as possible. The earlier students apply, the more aid they may be eligible to receive. Funds are limited, so families need to understand the process to make sure their student receives the maximum amount of financial aid available. Here are five tips I share with students and their families to help them navigate this process:”

Tip 1: Just do it! Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the federal application that all schools use to determine student eligibility for federal financial aid. Many states (including Maine) and schools also use the FAFSA to distribute their own need-based financial aid.

Tip 2: The “early bird” sometimes gets the worm. Fill out the FAFSA as early as possible. The FAFSA for the 2015-16 school year became available Jan. 1and can be found at www.fafsa.gov. Many types of financial aid are only awarded to students who meet the specified deadline (each state and school has their own deadline), and some schools award aid on a first-come first-served basis. Don’t wait until your taxes are done to file the FAFSA — estimate the information and update it later.

Tip 3: Be prepared. Have the following information (if applicable) available when you sit down to complete the FAFSA: Social Security numbers for the student and parent(s); driver’s license numbers for the student and parent(s); student and parent(s) federal tax information for 2014 (if taxes not yet filed, estimate using 2013 tax returns or 2014 W-2 form(s) or final pay stubs); records of any untaxed income and a list of student and parent assets; list of schools your child is considering.

Tip 4: Make the time. Help is Available. Years ago, the FAFSA had more questions and took a long time to complete. Now it is easier than ever and most families can finish the FAFSA in less than 30 minutes. If you need help, FAME offers in-personal FAFSA Help Sessions and online support: 27 in-person help sessions statewide in January and February with financial aid experts available to assist families in completing the FAFSA form. To find an event, visit: FAMEmaine.com. Online support: If families can’t attend an in-person help session, visit FAME for FASFA online help. There, they can download an information checklist and watch a video that offers tips on how to fill out the FAFSA form. Families can also call 1-800-228-3734 with questions.

Tip 5: Do your homework. The FAFSA is just one step in the process. Here are other items to follow up on: ask if the school(s) has any additional applications required to apply for the school’s financial aid; if income was estimated, update information on the FAFSA after taxes have been filed, ideally by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool; provide the school with any other required documentation or forms; compare awards from each school by focusing on the “net price” — the cost minus grants and scholarships (funds that don’t have to be repaid); before borrowing loans, understand the difference between federal and private student loans; search for scholarships and continue to do so throughout the year.

Scholarships can take time to locate and apply for, but they are a great way to help pay some of the cost of college or reduce student loan borrowing. Visit these free sites (never pay to apply for a scholarship) to help you get started:

• FAME offers a searchable database of Maine-based scholarships for students: FAMEmaine.com/education

• Maine Community Foundation: www.mainecf.org

• Some great online resources for national scholarships include:

• Fastweb.com

• Zinch.com

• Bigfuture.collegeboard.org

Tappan notes, “My recommendation regarding scholarships is to start early and create a system to keep track of applications and submission deadlines. The students who are most successful set aside time every week — even 30 minutes to search and apply for scholarships. The hard work often pays off and some scholarships are even renewable.”

FAME is offering three $1,000 scholarships for participants that complete the FAFSA at the in-person help sessions or through FAME’s online support program. Winners will be randomly selected at the beginning of May.

FAME is a quasi-independent state agency that provides innovative financial solutions to help Maine people and businesses pursue educational and business opportunities. To learn more about FAME, please visit www.famemaine.com.

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