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6 ways to get help with the FAFSA

(MoneyWatch) Need help completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid?

Many parents feel apprehensive when they tackle the form, which contains 130 questions on dependency status, assets and income and which is required for any student who wants to obtain need-based college grants, federal loans or a work-study job while in school. But there are ways to obtain help when completing the FAFSA

Here are six resources to help you complete the financial aid form successfully:

1. FAFSA on the Web. The federal government can help if you have questions with the form. Just call the FAFSA hotline at (800) 433-3243. When you are working on the FAFSA online, you can also click the "Live Help" button.

2. Use a worksheet. Completing the FAFSA can be easier if you know what information you need in advance. You can see what questions the FAFSA contains by printing the "FAFSA on the Web" worksheet off the federal student aid website.

3. The IRS. You'll need your income tax information to complete the FAFSA. The federal government recently made inputting this information much easier thanks to the IRS data retrieval tool. With this service, which will be available beginning February 3, parents can transfer their federal tax information to the FAFSA straight from their 2012 tax returns.

4. "College Goal Sunday." Look for one of the free weekend events scheduled in January and February for families that require help completing the FAFSA. College Goal Sunday events, which are held in 37 states and the District of Columbia, was created by the Indiana Student Financial Aid Association. The California Student Aid Commission also sponsors free FAFSA workshops throughout the state during the same period via the "California cash for college" initiative. 

5. Check out TuitionCoach. The TuitionCoach website contains free videos, financial aid backgrounders and a FAFSA calculator that can help you determine your college costs. I particularly like the site's valuable worksheets on how to complete the FAFSA and the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. You must register on the free site to gain access to the worksheets and much of the rest of the material.

6. Use a FAFSA preparer. While anyone can file the FAFSA for free (it's even emphasized in its name), there are preparers who will complete the form for a fee. If you'd like help, I suggest checking out Student Financial Aid Services, which has assisted more than a million families prepare and file the FAFSA via the phone and Internet. The organization offers FAFSA preparation online for $79.99 and telephone preparation for $99.99.

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