A Step-by-Step Guide to Filling Out FAFSA
Filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first and most important step to receiving financial aid.
When you submit your completed application you’ll not only learn if you qualify for aid, but the types of aid, and the portion of the loans your family will be responsible for.
The portion you’re responsible for is referred to as the estimated family contribution (EFC).
Applying to College? You Should Also Apply for FAFSA
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“You never know what life is going to throw at you,” she said. And this year in particular, it’s thrown a lot.
Here are some tips to guide you through the FAFSA application process.
Types of Need-Based Aid
Need-based federal student aid comes in several forms. Before you learn what types you qualify for and the amounts, your college will start with the cost of attendance, then subtract out your EFC.
What remains is considered your financial need.
Here are the types of need-based federal student aid:
The Federal Pell Grant is the largest source of financial aid from the federal government. Unlike other forms of financial aid, the Federal Pell Grant is determined solely on the basis of need–that is, academic achievements are NOT a factor. Federal Pell Grants do not need to be repaid.
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is awarded to students with the most financial need. It doesn’t need to be repaid under most circumstances. Although students must apply through FAFSA to be considered, it is the financial aid office of the participating university that makes decisions regarding eligibility, deadlines, and frequency of disbursement. Talk to your university’s individual financial aid office to see if they participate.
Schools get a set amount of FSEOG funds annually from the U.S. Department of Education. Once the amount a school has received for the year has been used, it cannot be replenished until the following year. Be sure to check the school for their deadlines and apply as early as possible. If you’re eligible, your school will credit your student account, pay you directly, or do a combination of these payment methods. Your school must disburse (pay out) funds at least once per term (semester, trimester, or quarter). Schools that do not use semesters, trimesters, or quarters must disburse funds at least twice per academic year.
What Should I Do to Maintain the FSEOG?
You must maintain enrollment as an undergraduate student and must not have previously earned a bachelor’s degree. Your eligibility for all federal student aid, including the FSEOG is determined by completing the FAFSA form on an annual basis.
Direct Subsidized Loans are federal students loans. The amount you receive is based on the information you provide on your FAFSA application.
You must start repaying these loans six months after graduating or leaving school. These loans accrue interest and there are different repayment plans available.
Under federal work-study programs, students with need will be provided with a job on or off campus. For undergraduates the pay is based on an hourly rate and the number of hours you work can’t exceed your award.
The school is required to pay students at least once a month, or, if the student requests it, payments can be made directly to the institution for education-related bills.
Filling Out FAFSA
Fill Out the Application With Your Student
Your student will need to know if they are a dependent or independent student for purposes of applying for federal student aid. If they are a dependent student, they will have to report parent information, as well as their own information.
For these reasons, it’s important that you work together in order to avoid any inaccuracies.
Start The Process By Creating An ID
You’ll need to create what is known as a FSA ID to log in online. It will essentially be used as a signature. If you create the ID before starting to fill out the form, it can help you avoid any delays later, especially when you’re ready to submit.
To do so, go to the FAFSA homepage.
Both you and your student will need separate IDs if your student is considered a dependent. Be sure to have your social security numbers on hand.
From studentaid.gov: “A Social Security number, email address, and mobile phone number can only be associated with one FSA ID. If you share an email address with someone else, then only one of you will be able to use that email address to create an FSA ID.”
Make sure to keep a record of your FSA ID (it contains your user name and password).
You’ll also need to create answers to login challenge questions such as “What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “What was the name of your junior high school?” Make sure you pick questions that both you and your child will remember the answers to.
Parental Financial Information
You’ll be required to enter information from various personal and financial documents. It’s important to be as detailed and accurate as possible in order to maximize your loan potential.
Aid is considered based on your income from two years prior to the school year you are applying for. For the 2021-2022 school year you will need your 2019 tax returns.
You’ll also need your social security number, an alien registration card (for non-citizens), any bank statements on records of investment or untaxed income, and your FSA ID. Dependent students will need this information from you (a parent) as well.
If you’ve experienced major changes to your finances (as a result of job loss, illness, or more), reach out to the financial aid office at the schools that your student has applied to so they’re aware that the taxes being submitted are not a reflection of your current financial status.
Most schools will guide you to a special circumstances form.
The FAFSA application process will begin by asking if you’re a new or returning user, to choose your semester of application, and to provide your social security number. You will then need to accept the disclaimer and create a “save key” number that you will use for future access.
The save key is different from your FSA ID. It allows you to pause your work and continue again when you’re ready.
Although FAFSA offers the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool which automatically uploads tax information from the IRS, it’s recommended that you verify all of the information is accurate, or fill it out manually instead.
Student Financial Information
Completing this section of the application will be simpler than the parental section since it requires you use some of the same information ( you’ll already have the information on hand), but with less emphasis on finances.
Be aware: If your child worked but didn’t file taxes, they still have to report that income. They should use their W-2 information to do so.
Should You List Colleges?
From studentaid.gov: “While completing the FAFSA form, you must list at least one school to receive your information. The schools you list will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of aid you may receive. Use the Federal School Code Search to find the colleges you’re interested in including on your FAFSA form…Note: Schools will not be able to see which other schools you listed on your FAFSA form.”
Before and After You Submit Your FAFSA
Before you submit your application, be sure to review these common mistakes.
The final step of the application requires you to sign the document (either with your FSA ID or digital signature) in order to proceed to the confirmation page.
Within a few days of submitting, you will receive your Student Aid Report electronically.
By working with your student, and following the many available online application guides, your patience with the FAFSA process can literally pay off.
For more help, check out these supplemental resources.
If you find you’re still stumped, a FAFSA Review that can provide more personalized guidance.
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