Our college financial aid expert offers tips on securing financial aid.

We are sending our first child off to college next year and are knee-deep in all the paperwork. My husband and I both work and have a reasonable income together. Based on what we’ve heard, we may make too much money to get any kind of financial aid, so should we just save some time and skip filling out the FAFSA®?

The truth is most people qualify for some financial aid, so it’s always a good idea to complete a FAFSA.

What is a FAFSA?

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The federal government provides more than $150 billion in grants, student loans and work-study funds each year. Completing and submitting a FAFSA is the first – and most important – step in accessing those funds.

How is the FAFSA Used?

In addition to your eligibility for federal student aid, the FAFSA also determines if you are entitled to state aid. Many colleges also use it to allocate their grants and scholarships, even those that are based on academic achievement. Some private scholarship decisions can also be based on this information.

It is always a good idea to file the FAFSA because costs can add up quickly.

We are in a Higher Tax Bracket. What is the Income Cap for Federal Student Aid?

This may come as a surprise to you, but there are no income requirements or cap to the amount of money you can earn to qualify for federal student aid. Many factors go into the financial aid equation, such as the number of children in college and the parents’ age.

Should We File a FAFSA if We Apply to Low-Cost Schools?

It is always a good idea to file the FAFSA because costs can add up quickly – even at a college with lower tuition. Make sure you factor tuition, books, meals, fees, travel, data plans, living expenses and miscellaneous expenses into your student’s college budget. Once you start tallying everything up, it may be too late to get any help for qualified education expenses if you haven’t filed a FAFSA.

Remember that filing a FAFSA isn’t an obligation to take any funds, and your student could end up qualifying for free money you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

We Know Our Child Isn’t Eligible for Academic Aid, So What’s the Point?

There are different types of financial aid. Merit-based aid takes your student’s high school grades into account, but federal student aid is based on financial need, which does not take academic progress into consideration.

When in doubt, fill it out. As the title implies, it is free to submit and there’s no requirement to take the funds if you don’t need them. Although it does cost you some time in gathering information and completing the form, most parents feel it is worthwhile if they are awarded any type of college financial aid.

About the Author

Jodi Okun is founder and president of College Financial Aid Advisors and a Discover Student Loans brand ambassador. Visit her website at collegefinancialaidadvisors.com. She is also the About.com Money Expert on “Paying for College,” and was recently acknowledged as one of the “Top 30 Social Influencers in Personal Finance & Wealth.” She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, US News & Education and The Huffington Post. The opinions expressed in this article are Jodi’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Discover Student Loans.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.