If, like so many single moms, you are the custodial parent of a child (under 24 years old) who’s soon heading for college, it’s time to FAFSA.

To get any cash for college – grants, work-study, scholarships, and federal loans – you have to fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The first time you do it, the process can seem complicated and overwhelming – but it’s really easier than they make it seem. Time-consuming, yes. Difficult, not really… as long as you come prepared

In case you’re wondering whether you should even bother filling it out – maybe you think you won’t qualify, or your kid doesn’t seem ready for college, or any other reason – the answer is an absolute YES. Do it even if you don’t expect to qualify for any aid. Do it even if you don’t plan to take on any student loans. Most schools expect you to fill it out, many scholarship applications demand it, and virtually all work-study programs require it.

You can start filling out your FAFSA for the 2020-2021 school year on October 1, 2019. Here are 5 tips to make the experience as painless as possible.

  1. Get your ID numbers first. Before you can start the FAFSA, you and your child will both need ID numbers (called FSAIDs). You’ll fill in some basic information, including full name and Social Security number. Once you apply, it can take up to 3 days to get your FSAID number back.  You can apply for your FSAID here. Here’s a quick video that walks you through the  process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7ihhGk8mCY&feature=youtu.be
  2. Fill out your FAFSA ASAP. A lot of the FREE funding (like grants and scholarships) is first-come, first-served. The sooner you apply, the better chance you have of scoring free cash and high-demand work-study. Click here to start your FAFSA.
  3. Get your documents ready before you start. The FAFSA forms ask for a lot of information, so get it all together before you start. It’ll take around 30 minutes to fill out the forms if you’re prepared – and longer if you have to go digging for numbers. If your tax filing is up-to-date, you can import some information directly from the IRS. Special note for single moms: As the custodial parent, only your financial information counts – and it includes any alimony or child support that you receive.
  4. Incomplete is better than nothing. Start filling out the FAFSA even if you don’t have all the answers you need. Here, even a partially filled out form counts.
  5. Don’t worry if your situation isn’t “neat.” The FAFSA and most schools’ financial aid offices know that plenty of families don’t fit into a standard mold. You can get information overrides for many situations – all it takes is some documentation.

The most important thing here is to fill in as much information as you can as soon as you can, so you can get the most possible FREE cash for college.