By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer
Filling out the form for federal college aid used to be regarded as the equivalent of a root canal.
Thanks to some much-needed steps toward simplification, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a bit less grueling for online applicants this year — perhaps just a routine cavity filling.
Worthy of dread or not, the FAFSA remains an essential step toward getting help paying for college. It is commonly used by colleges and states to set grant and loan amounts, and those seeking aid for the fall semester should submit it as early in the year as possible.
In this installment of "Your Money," we answer questions about the application.
Q: What has changed about the FAFSA this year?
A: The U.S. Department of Education is still in the early stages of its effort to make the FAFSA less complex. It has shortened the online application for aid in the 2010-11 school year by up to 22 questions, using improved "skip logic" to allow students or, more likely, their parents to bypass those that don't apply to them.
The most time-consuming questions remain, however.
Experienced FAFSA filers say that perhaps the most noticeable change is the technology that has made the site more user-friendly. It has a shorter worksheet, improved navigation, a handy "help and hints" section, and useful information about your chosen colleges, such as an instant estimate of eligibility for loans.
Q: How long does it take to complete?