The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be quite intimidating, especially if it is the first time filling it out. However, it does not have to be. Here are the things you need to know about the FAFSA:
- For the first time ever, students and parents can start filling out the FAFSA October 1 for the 2017-2018 academic year. Previously, everyone had to wait until January 1.
- Starting this year (FAFSA for 2017-18 academic year), income and tax information for the prior-prior year (PPY) will be used to file the FAFSA. Therefore, for the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students and parents will report income and tax information for tax year 2015. Again, this is new; previously the prior year taxes were used and this forced families to rush to get their taxes done or estimate their tax information and then update later.
- The FAFSA is used in a few ways when determining financial aid. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid. This includes federal grants, as well as low interest rate loans. In addition, the FAFSA determines the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges use the EFC to determine the amount of aid that will be awarded to the student.
The FAFSA requires specific information. Therefore students and parents should have the following information available before going to the FAFSA website to file the FAFSA:
- Social Security Number.
- Alien Registration Number (if not a U.S. citizen).
- PPY federal tax returns, W-2, and other records of money earned. For 2017-2018, tax and income information for 2015 will be used.
- Bank statement records of investment.
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable).
- FSA ID to sign electronically. Get your FSA ID prior to filling out the FAFSA. Parents and students will each need their own FSA ID.
- FAFSA code for any college you want the FAFSA sent. You can find the FAFSA code for each college on the institution website. The FAFSA website also has a search feature to find the FAFSA code. If you decide to apply to other colleges after submitting your FAFSA, you will be able to log back in and add any additional institutions.
Other things to keep in mind when submitting the FAFSA:
- Pay attention to deadlines. Students are encouraged to submit the FAFSA early, but states and institutions all have different financial aid deadlines. Make sure the FAFSA is submitted prior to the individual deadlines. Submitting the FAFSA just one day after the deadline at an institution could drastically affect the financial aid you are offered.
- Don’t pay anyone to submit the FAFSA for you. The FAFSA is not very hard to fill out. Many of the questions tell you exactly where you will find information. For example, after asking one of the questions, the FAFSA tells you the answer can be found on a specific line from your taxes.
- If you still have questions about the FAFSA, there are many free resources available. The FAFSA has a “help” section that offers answers to many common questions. Many high schools and colleges offer free FAFSA workshops. Lastly, there are college financial aid officers at colleges who can answer your questions.
No matter what your income, it is important to fill out the FAFSA. Unfortunately there is a big misconception that many believe they will not qualify for financial aid. However, the FAFSA determines eligibility for free money (grants) and low interest loans. In addition, the FAFSA determines the EFC and colleges use this information to determine financial need. Even if you have a high EFC you might show financial need (financial need = Cost of Attendance – EFC). If the cost of attendance is high, you could have financial need and the college may award financial aid. If you head to the FAFSA with all of the information you need (listed above), it should not take you very long to submit the FAFSA. Take the time to submit it – you could qualify for financial aid!
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Thanks especially for the last paragraph! I hear it all the time….”we won’t qualify for aid so we’re not filling it out. I don’t want them to have our information!” Uh, well they have your tax return anyway so yeah…..
It was one of the most common things I heard when I was an admissions officer and I was explaining financial aid. Later this week I’ll be sharing some common FAFSA myths and this will be discussed.
Since we are using PPY income, will we have to fill out the whole form again or can we use what we entered last year?
Great question. While you will be using the same information you used for the 2016-2017 year, you still have to fill out the FAFSA for 2017-2018. Students and parents have to fill out the FAFSA for every year they will be in school even when you think information will be exactly the same.
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Do we choose the parent and student FSA ID or are students assigned one through school?
The FSA ID is created through the Federal Student Aid website: https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm
When filling out the FAFSA, you will submit all of the school IDs the student wants the FAFSA submitted to.
what if your income was different in 2016 than it was in 2015 how is that determined how much your EFC would be
Great question! You will still provide 2015 tax/income information for the 2017-2018 FAFSA. However, if income has changed drastically, especially if your income is now lower, there will be an additional step that you will have to do outside of the FAFSA. After submitting the FAFSA to the colleges, you’ll need to contact the individual financial aid offices at the colleges to let them know of your income change. Many financial aid offices will then walk you through the “special circumstances” procedure at the institution – most will require you provide documentation that things have changed since 2015. It may be timely to contact all of the colleges, but it can definitely be worth it is circumstances have changed.
how is filing out your FSA early going to determine your EFC if your income is different in 2016 than in 2015
For the 2017-2018 FAFSA, your EFC is going to be determined by your 2015 income/taxes. The reason students and parents are encouraged to apply early (opens October 1) is because some aid options are on a first come, first serve basis.
If your income is different in 2016 than 2015, you will still provide 2015 information on the FAFSA. Then contact the financial aid offices at the colleges you are applying and let them know of your income changes. Each college will then walk you through the special circumstances procedure at the colleges – most will want documentation providing the changes.