You can apply now for college financial aid with FAFSA

Brittany Gamtt (left), college adviser, helps Ayonna Cameron, 18, senior at Therrell High School, before filling out a federal student financial aid application during an Achieve Atlanta FAFSA Clinic at Therrell High School in this 2018 file photo. Families are allowed to update their tax information on the form, including this year to reflect any financial changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Brittany Gamtt (left), college adviser, helps Ayonna Cameron, 18, senior at Therrell High School, before filling out a federal student financial aid application during an Achieve Atlanta FAFSA Clinic at Therrell High School in this 2018 file photo. Families are allowed to update their tax information on the form, including this year to reflect any financial changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

COVID-19 may complicate process for 2021 students

Federal education officials this month opened the annual application process for students to apply for financial aid to help pay for their college education next school year.

Experts say filling out the form, known as the FAFSA, may present problems for some students whose financial situations have changed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem:

Financial aid for the 2021-22 school year will be based on the student’s or the family’s 2019 income tax returns. The 2019 tax information may not reflect financial changes due to the pandemic, such as a job loss.

The solution:

Students and their families can add updated information after sending the 2019 income tax returns that more accurately reflects their pandemic financial situation. It’s an option that many students do not know exists, said Veronica Leyva, a counselor at Collegewise, a company that helps students with the college admissions process.

U.S. Department of Education officials say students should contact the school they plan to attend to discuss how their financial situation has changed.

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The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA Fill it out – you have nothing to lose The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better Gather the information you'll need Watch out for common mistakes like leaving fields blank Keep an eye out for requests for more information

James Blackburn, head of financial aid at Georgia State University, said officials there can use documents that show an income reduction when determining how much financial help a student needs.

“This process is allowed under our Professional Judgement options,” Blackburn said via email. “We do have to support the change with documentation. In fact, our outreach efforts for the students will inquire on changes in income that might make the student more eligible for (federal Pell Grants).”

The application process:

Students can apply online for the FAFSA by going to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa. They can also download the mobile app on their smartphone and apply.

The necessary documents:

In addition to tax records, students and their families will need information such as money held in bank accounts and real estate holdings (not your primary residence), Social Security numbers and records of the student’s or parents' untaxed income, such as veterans benefits and interest income.

The deadline:

The federal government has an extended application period which concludes June 30, 2022. For students currently enrolled in college, the school must have the correct information by the last day of enrollment in the 2020-2021 school year.