Learning Curve

Many paths available for college financial aid

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Are you applying to a vocational school or college and not sure how to pay for it? Luckily, there's a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that determines your eligibility for federal and state student aid, ranging from grants, loans and scholarships to work-study.

Even if you don't think you'll be eligible for financial aid, apply anyway. Families with an income of $250,000 or less, or 95 percent of Americans, can access some financial aid. NerdWallet, a financial how-to website, estimates that $2.7 billion in federal financial aid went untapped in 2016. nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/college-students-fafsa-money/.

The FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2017 and closes June 30 for 2018-2019 although every school has a priority deadline. You will be considered for federal grants and loans throughout the application period. However, after the priority deadline, state grants and scholarships may not be available. Some priority deadlines for New Mexico schools: Jan. 5 at University of New Mexico, March 1 at New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech and May 1 at Santa Fe Community College.

Most students will file as a dependent, which means they must provide personal and financial information for their parent(s) or guardian(s). Independent students only supply their information and may be a graduate student, on active military duty or a veteran, a parent, married or minimally 24 years old.

The FAFSA is available online at FAFSA.gov or on paper in English and español. The online application offers help, hints and live chat for your questions. The FederalStudentAid.gov website has a wealth of information about college preparation, types of aid and qualifying and applying for financial aid. They post YouTube videos that cover the basics. youtu.be/LK0bbu0y5AM

To fill out the FAFSA online, first obtain a FSA-ID - your electronic signature for the FAFSA - for the student and the parent or guardian completing the application. This requires the individual's date of birth, email address and Social Security number. Visit fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm.

You will need this information from student and a parent or guardian to complete the 2018-2019 FAFSA:

• 2016 Federal Income taxes and W2s

• Cash, checking and savings balances

• Investments, including 529 College Savings Plan

• Month and year parents or guardians married, separated, divorced or widowed

• Any government benefits or child support received

Tax information can be uploaded through a link with the IRS using the data retrieval tool. Students must add schools to the FAFSA to be considered for state- and school-based aid. You can add up to 10 schools and later add or remove schools as you consider other options.

The FAFSA will create an expected family contribution, which will help colleges determine the financial-aid award package they offer if you are accepted there. This package may contain grants, loans, scholarships and work-study. You will want to compare the various packages to determine the best fit for you and your family.

Bridges can help you complete the FAFSA and review financial aid packages. Call (575) 758-5074 or email info@bridgesproject.org to schedule an appointment.

As Bridges celebrates our 20th year, we'd like to take the opportunity to pause and share more about what we do. Please enjoy "We Are Bridges." spark.adobe.com/page/zrfkBd5MWg1ro/.

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