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New Resources Available as Season for Seeking Financial Aid Kicks Off

Now that most high school seniors have their college applications behind them, the next step is to think about how to pay for it all. Experts say the chances of getting aid are better if you start early—and there are new resources available this year to help.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has just released a toolkit to help students accurately complete the updated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that came out in January for the 2014-15 academic year.

The NASFAA resources, which are all free online, include Tip Sheets for Unique Student Populations for adult learners, single parents, members of the military, foster youth, and undocumented students, among others. It also has Cash for College, which explains how the aid process works and types of loans and grants available, and a sheet on common mistakes to avoid in the financial aid process.

Students can complete the FAFSA at https://fafsa.ed.gov (Be aware of private sites with similar addresses that charges for their services to help with the application.)

The FAFSA is free. It is the most commonly used financial-aid application and the only way to determine eligibility for federal financial assistance, such as a Pell Grant or Federal Stafford Loan. It's also used often to determine aid from individual school- or state-aid programs.

Check out the U.S. Department of Education website for details on the student-aid process.

Deadlines vary by institution and state, so students are encouraged to find out when their financial-aid applications are due and get started now. (The FAFSA site has a search tool for deadlines by where you live here. Funding is limited and the FAFSA submission date can be a factor in determining awards. Some colleges offer families an incentive for applying for aid early.

Even if students haven't heard about their admission status or have been deferred or wait-listed, they can begin to fill out the FAFSA form. Experts say there is no need to wait until this year's taxes are filed; just use estimates from last year. The form can always be amended after tax season. If families estimate, FAFSA will send out a reminder after April 15 as a reminder to update the information with the recent tax filing.

This year, for the first time, the FAFSA will collect income and other information from a dependent student's legal parents regardless of the parents' marital status or gender, if those parents live together. The changes were announced in April. While the attention has been on how this affects students with same-sex parents, it will also have an impact on students whose parents live together but are not married.

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