You Can Still Apply for Free Financial Aid

Did you know that you can apply for federal financial aid all year? You haven’t missed the deadline — in fact, you can file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) any time between now and June 30, 2010 for help with covering the cost of accredited higher education courses you complete by that same date.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education provides more than $100 billion in new financial aid to nearly 14 million higher education students and their families. The application period for each school year (July 1 to the following June 30) is about 18 months long, from January 1st of one year to June 30 of the following year. This 18-month application period ensures that summer school is covered along with the traditional academic year.

Really? I thought that deadline was back in the Spring or something. . . .

It’s true, it’s usually recommended that you file your FAFSA as soon after January 1st as possible because many state financial aid programs, which also require a FAFSA, have February-May deadlines. This may be due to the fact that states have to make sure state financial aid can be accounted for in their budgets, and since most states have some kind of balanced-budget policy, they must have all their ducks in a row in time to plan for each fiscal year.

But even when the application deadlines for state financial aid and private scholarships are long past, the Department of Education disburses federal financial aid on a rolling basis throughout the year. If you haven’t filed a 2009-2010 FAFSA yet and find yourself short of funds or putting together a last-minute plan to enroll in an education program, you still have plenty of time to apply for federal student aid.

Free Financial Aid

The rolling availability of funds is only one nice feature of federal student aid. Another benefit is that a number of federal grant programs offer FREE financial aid to eligible students. Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants provide free financial aid strictly according to financial need, and the maximum Pell Grant took a big jump up to $5,350 this year. (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants range from $100 to $4,000.)

The amount of Pell Grant funding put into the Education Department’s budget was also increased this year, providing Pell Grants for about 800,000 more students.

The Academic Competitiveness Grant, the National SMART Grant, and the new TEACH Grant also offer free financial aid, although eligibility for these programs is based on a combination of financial need and special qualifications.

Low-cost Student Loans

Even if you are not eligible for a federal grant, you may still want to get your student loan from the Department of Education. There may have been a lot of dark muttering about the vanishing credit market this past year, but federal loans are still available, and you may get a better deal with a Stafford loan than you would with a private loan. Federal student loans carry a low interest rate and low fees, and a new loan repayment program took effect just this July; if you qualify, your monthly payment is based on your income, not on your loan balance.

You Haven’t Missed the FAFSA Deadline

A major advantage of the federal student aid program is its long-term application timeframe and rolling distribution of free and low-cost financial aid. If you haven’t tried applying for federal financial aid, you still have time!

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