College is expensive and many families need help paying for it. For financial aid consideration next year, the first step is filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the application for federal scholarships, grants, work-study opportunities, and loans. Many schools and state programs also use it to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs. Have a FAFSA question? Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions and answers.
FAFSA Question #1 – When should I complete the FAFSA?
You should always file in time to meet your earliest deadline. As a general rule, filing as soon after October 1 as possible is the best way to meet early school or state deadlines, which will vary. You can check all state FAFSA deadlines on the FAFSA site, and check your college’s financial aid website for information on their deadline.
You’ll need income information for you and possibly your parents. Most employers, banks, and financial institutions send the income information needed for tax returns by the end of January, but if your school has an earlier deadline, you and your parents can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to access information from your last tax return.
FAFSA Question #2 – Do I need to include my parents’ information?
If you are under 24, your parents claimed you on their income tax return in any of past three years, and not in the military or married, you may be considered financially dependent and may need to include your parents’ information. For complete questions to help you figure out your dependency status, studentaid.gov has a page to guide you. If you are a dependent student and your parents are divorced or separated, check the FAFSA directions to determine which parent’s information to include. Please note: students entering graduate school are automatically considered financially independent.
FAFSA Question #3 – What’s the easiest way to complete and file the FAFSA?
Increasing numbers of people now file the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov. FAFSA.gov offers help features to guide applicants, and electronic submission is faster. The online application is synchronized with the myFAFSA components of the myStudentAid mobile app, so students and parents can start on one application and finish on another. You can begin, complete, and submit a new or renewal FAFSA form for the current academic year or for next year this way. You can check the FAFSA website announcements for special tips to help you avoid having errors in your completed FAFSA.
You can also access the downloadable PDF versions of these forms on FAFSA.gov.
Before you file the FAFSA, both you and your parents, if applicable, must obtain a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. The FSA ID provides access to the FAFSA and all federal aid information. Here’s more information on creating and using your FSA ID.
FAFSA Question #4 – Where should I send the FAFSA?
If you are applying to college for the first time, considering a transfer, or moving on to graduate school, you can send the FAFSA to multiple schools. You are not considered for aid until you apply and the program accepts you. Your state grant program may also require the FAFSA and a list of state grant codes. You’ll find helpful information regarding Listing Colleges and/or Career Schools on the FAFSA site.
And if you mean literally “where do I send the FAFSA?” the instructions for where to submit the FAFSA are on the form itself.
FAFSA Question #5 – Should I file a new or renewal FAFSA?
If this is your first FAFSA, you will complete a blank form. After entering your FSA ID, your information will auto-fill if you have filed a FAFSA before, allowing you to update items which have changed.
FAFSA Question #6 – What documents will I need?
FAFSA filers, including students and parents, will need documents such as W2s, income tax documents, bank statements, non-taxable income, investment documents, and other financial information. Depending on when you’re filing the FAFSA, you may be given the option of automatically transferring tax information into the FAFSA form using the IRS DRT. Using this tool can help save you time and effort. Note that you can’t change the information manually if you use the tool; however, you can clear the form if you decide not to use it and start the application over.
FAFSA Question #7 – Where can I get help?
Federal Student Aid (FSA) has comprehensive directions on their website, including help for filing the FAFSA. Your college financial aid office is also a good resource for any remaining questions.
FAFSA Question #8 – What happens next?
If you’re curious about your FAFSA after you file, you can track its status using your FSA ID. For paper FAFSAs, you’ll need to wait 7-10 days from mailing date to start tracking it. You’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) approximately a week after filing your online FAFSA. It will display your FAFSA information and your calculated Student Aid Index (SAI), which was previously called your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). You should review your SAR carefully for errors to make sure you didn’t make a mistake on your FAFSA form, and make corrections to your FAFSA data if needed. You can also add other schools if you wish.
Your information helps calculate the SAI. The SAI takes into consideration income, assets, the number of people in your family and more. FAFSA sends this information to you and your school, and the state grant system. The school uses your SAI as they look at your financial aid eligibility. This does not mean that you will pay what the SAI indicates. It is a general guideline, but the rest of the financial picture is determined when your school notifies you of your financial aid eligibility.
Check your college financial aid website to see if you must submit other forms for scholarships, grants, or institutional aid that they offer and respond to any requests for information they may send. If you have special circumstances or your financial situation has changed since last year, contact your financial aid office directly for guidance. Applying for financial aid might seem intimidating at first, but follow these steps and you should be able to navigate the process with ease.
Nelnet Bank does not provide legal, investment, tax, or financial advice. This page and the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. This content is not meant to address the circumstances of any particular individual. Nothing contained in this article constitutes a recommendation or endorsement by Nelnet Bank. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consult with a qualified professional.