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Free Application for Federal Student Aid Opens for 2012-13

With college applications mostly done, now high school students can turn their energy to how to pay for school.

January 1 was the first day that families could fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

To get started, gather the following documents: Social Security card; driver's license;
2011 W-2 forms and other records of money earned; 2011 Federal Income Tax Return and any untaxed-income records; bank statements; current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records; and if you are not a U.S.citizen, your alien registration or permanent resident card.

Eligibility depends on Expected Family Contribution (EFC), student's year in school, enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school. The financial-aid office at the college determines how much financial aid the student is eligible to receive.

While it's recommended that you complete your income tax returns before filling out the FAFSA, you do not have to file before you fill out the FAFSA.

It's often worth the effort to apply. In 2010-11, full-time postsecondary students received an average of $13,914, including $6, 566 in grants and $6,368 in federal loans, according to the College Board Trends in Student Aid 2011.

The College Board has useful guidance on the FAFSA process here.

The FAFSA can be filled out online, which takes 3-5 days to process or by paper for a 7-10 day turnaround.

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