Many high school seniors and college students are already busy planning spring break getaways, but February is also Financial Aid Awareness Month, and for those students who may have procrastinated, now's the time to complete the all-important Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the gateway to more than  $150 billion in grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans.

Schools rely on information students submit through the FAFSA to develop financial aid packages, states use it to determine student eligibility for state-based aid, and some scholarships require it as part of their applications. Sallie Mae, the nation's saving, planning, and paying for college company, offers a free online guide of tools and tips to help families successfully navigate the FAFSA.

Here are some key updates about the FAFSA:
  • State deadlines are right around the corner. Some state deadlines for grant and scholarship aid have already passed and others are quickly approaching, including Connecticut on Feb. 15 and Michigan on March 1. In addition, several states, including Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington, award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. All state deadlines are listed at
  • Families must use 2015 tax information. This should help simplify the application process, as families will no longer need to estimate their taxes for the FAFSA, or put off completing the form until they file their 2016 taxes. By using 2015 tax returns, more families will be able to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which can help save valuable time by importing tax information directly into the FAFSA.
  • Award letters may be issued earlier. Some colleges have already begun sending financial aid award letters to students who have completed the FAFSA. Award letters provide important information, including the school's estimated Cost of Attendance and the financial aid package — including scholarships, grants, and loans — offered to the student. For more information on how to effectively analyze award letters, visit

"Financial Aid Awareness Month serves as an important reminder to complete the FAFSA, which is essentially a passport to billions of dollars in student aid, including grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans," said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. "And for those students and families who may have just begun exploring higher education financing options, Financial Aid Awareness Month is a great time to start building a plan."

According to " How America Pays for College 2016," the national study by Sallie Mae and Ipsos, those with a plan to pay for college are more likely to pursue a bachelor's degree, they are more willing and able to spend on college, and they borrow less.

Sallie Mae has several tools and resources to help families get started on a plan. Families can use Sallie Mae's  College Planning Calculator to research expected college costs and build a long-term customized savings plan to fit their goals. The company also has a free mobile app, College Ahead, which helps high school juniors and seniors develop a road map to help plan and pay for college. Families can also access Scholarship Search by Sallie Mae, a free scholarship search tool to access 5 million scholarships valued at $24 billion.

Additionally, the new is a one-stop destination for students and families who may need money for college and want to explore their options, or who are just looking for information on how to get started.

To watch Sallie Mae's "Beginner's Guide to FAFSA" video, and get additional tips about completing and submitting the FAFSA, visit

Sallie Mae (Nasdaq: SLM) is the nation's saving, planning, and paying for college company. Whether college is a long way off or just around the corner, Sallie Mae offers products that promote responsible personal finance, including private education loans, Upromise rewards, scholarship search, college financial planning tools, and online retail banking. Learn more at Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

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