G.P. of Williston Park writes:

I am starting college in the fall and will not be applying for scholarships or loans. Should I still complete and submit the FAFSA?

The College Whisperer responds:

Let me think about this for a second. DUH! Yes, you should file the FAFSA, and, given that most colleges have already made or are in the process of making financial aid decisions for the fall, do it today!

FAFSA, as its full moniker more than implies (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is FREE. No cost to complete. No cost to submit. No penalty for applying for money -- including grants and scholarships -- to which you may be entitled.

Most schools require the submission of the FAFSA form -- which is found at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ -- in considering the award of financial aid, including their own scholarships, fellowships, and grants (read as FREE MONEY), which never has to be repaid.

Are you in the habit of throwing away free money? Even Rockefeller would have filed the FAFSA.

In addition to scholarships, colleges often require the FAFSA as a pre-requisite for student loans, including the federal Stafford loans, low(er) interest loans that do not have to be repaid while you are in school. [More on Stafford loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized, in future postings.] If the prospect of work-study is in your future, you will likely need to have filed the FAFSA for that, as well.

Also consider this. While you may be rolling in dough today, a change in circumstances, such as a parent's unemployment, divorce, or a sudden drop in the stock market (yeah, right. Like that could ever happen), may find you in need of money to pay for tuition, books, or related college expenses.

Forgo FAFSA, and you're out of luck.

Is there a downside to submitting the FAFSA? Certainly not at this point, after you've been accepted. [Some schools, believe it or not, do consider whether you will be applying for aid in the admission process. (Such instances are rare. Consult with your college planning counselor.) Most, however, are what is called "need blind."] Submitting the FAFSA leaves the door open for asking for money from or through the college should you need it.

And who knows? Submit the FAFSA and the college of your choice may just threaten you with cash, nominal though it may be.

It shouldn't take more than an hour or so to complete and submit the FAFSA online, once you have the necessary paperwork (i.e., tax returns) in hand. Your college counselor or financial adviser can help.

For those looking for an early start on the financial aid process (hint: high school juniors), check out the FAFSA4caster for an estimate of your eligibility for financial aid.

FAFSA is free and relatively easy. It could also mean money in the bank. And who couldn't use just a little more of that?

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

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