Why experts say college students should fill out the FAFSA immediately

HOUSTON, Texas -- The year 2020 has thrown a tremendous amount of curveballs and hardships to many, but that doesn't have to mean financing college is out of the question.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA, officially opened October 1, and financial aid experts say applying this year is incredibly important.

"It is extremely important that students apply as early as possible," said JoEllen Soucier, the executive director of the financial aid office at Houston Community College.

Because many families lost jobs or endured furloughs due to the pandemic, it's likely there will be a huge need for federal loans in order for students to be able to finance higher education.

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According to a 2020 report by Sallie Mae, 71% of families applied for the FAFSA last year, which was a decline from 83% just two years ago.

There are two ways to apply, either online at the Federal Student Aid website , or via the "My Student Aid" app.

This year's FAFSA allotment will be based on 2019 tax returns, which means it will not account for any wage loss due to the pandemic, but there is something you can do.

"What we offer (HCC) students is called the "special circumstances form," and that allows you to give us new and different information than what was on your 2019 taxes," Soucier said.

Most colleges and universities can take a look at financial situations and try to figure out a solution, so be sure to contact the financial aid offices of prospective schools.

Also, Soucier said to be ready to offer up specific documentation, like "copies of pay stubs or copies of unemployment, as proof of your current financial situation."

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