Sallie Mae, the nation’s No. 1 financial services company specializing in education, has a New Year’s resolution that should be on the list of every high school senior and college student: complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available on Jan. 1. Used to calculate eligibility for federal grants and loans, as well as resources from states and institutions of higher education, the FAFSA can be completed online at www.fafsa.gov for upcoming academic year 2013-14. “The FAFSA is the key to unlocking the financial aid that’s so important to students and families,” said Joe DePaulo, executive vice president, Sallie Mae. “By following a few simple tips as you complete the FAFSA, you can maximize your chances of receiving financial aid that will make higher education more affordable.” The application form collects information about the current financial situation of the student applicant and their parents. It is used by the U.S. Department of Education, states and colleges to assess financial need. That assessment is a factor in student financial aid award letters. New this year, hundreds of colleges and universities have committed to adopt the new “ Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,” with the goal of making it easier for students to compare their options for college. The standardized financial aid award letter presents information about the cost of attendance, financial aid options, graduation rates, and other data in a standardized format. The FAFSA is a critical first step in the “1-2-3 approach” Sallie Mae recommends families take to pay for college. First, make sure to take advantage of free money such as grants and scholarships. Next, explore federal loans. Finally, if necessary, fill the gaps in funding with affordable private loans. At CollegeAnswer.com, Sallie Mae offers free how-to videos and checklists to help make the process easier, including these tips: 1) Gather necessary information. Collect the documents with the information you’ll need to complete the application, such as student and parent driver’s licenses, latest federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, bank statements, investment information and Social Security numbers. 2) Know your state’s deadline. It’s important for families to learn their state’s submission deadline for the FAFSA. Deadlines vary by state, with the earliest being February 15 in Connecticut, quickly followed by California, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland and Michigan in early March. State deadlines are available on the FAFSA website. In addition, check your school’s deadlines and additional financial aid application requirements. 3) Don’t let income tax filings slow you down. The FAFSA requires students and parents to use 2012 tax information, but don’t panic—families can use their 2011 taxes or another best estimate to get started. Once 2012 taxes have been filed families can then update the form. Sallie Mae (NASDAQ: SLM) is the nation’s No. 1 financial services company specializing in education. Whether college is a long way off or just around the corner, Sallie Mae turns education dreams into reality for its 25 million customers. With products and services that include 529 college savings plans, Upromise rewards, scholarship search tools, education loans, insurance, and online banking, Sallie Mae offers solutions that help families save, plan, and pay for college. Sallie Mae also provides financial services to hundreds of college campuses as well as to federal and state governments. Learn more at SallieMae.com. Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.