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FAFSA: A Form for Your Future

The first step in getting any type of financial aid is filling out the FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It's required if you want to be considered for federal grants, loans or the work-study program. It's not a complicated process; you just need to follow the directions. Many people mistakenly assume that they make too much to even qualify, but that's not always true.

If you're younger than 25, you are still considered "dependent" and must use your parents' income as well as your own when filling out the FAFSA. To find out if you can be determined independent under age 25, visit the FAFSA website. If you have a major change of income after you have filled out the FAFSA, contact the college's financial aid office as you may be eligible for a larger grant.

Beware of fafsa.com as it usually comes up first on a Google search. This site is not affiliated with the Department of Education, and you will be charged for using its service. The FAFSA can be filed for free, without professional assistance at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Start Early A lot of aid is available on a first come, first served basis. January 1, 2014, is the first day you can file the FAFSA if you plan to enter college in the fall of 2014. But you don't have to wait until then to gather the documents you'll need, such as your 2013 income tax return and other financial documents.*

Seek Help Look for local workshops that provide help with the FAFSA. College Goal Sunday is a day each February when free, professional assistance in completing the FAFSA is available in various cities throughout Florida. For details, visit www.fasfaa.org/cgs.

File Online Online applications are processed much more quickly than filing by mail. The electronic form also helps ensure that the information is filled out correctly because it will not allow you to advance to the next page if anything is missing.

For a complete list of required documents and to file online, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.