8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

Student on laptop

Need to fill out the FAFSA® but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help. Let’s walk through the process step by step:

1. Create an Account (FSA ID)

  • Student: An FSA ID is a username and password you need to log in to and sign the FAFSA online. If you don’t have an FSA ID, get one here ASAP. It takes about 10 minutes to create an FSA ID. If this will be your first time filling out the FAFSA, you’ll be able to use your FSA ID right away to sign and submit your FAFSA online. If this is not your first time filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need to wait 1–3 days before you can use your new FSA ID (there’s an account verification process).

IMPORTANT: Some of the most common FAFSA errors occur when the student and parent mix up their FSA IDs. If you don’t want your financial aid to be delayed, it’s extremely important that each parent and each student create his/her own FSA ID and that they do not share it with ANYONE, even each other.

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7 Things You Need Before You Fill Out the FAFSA

7 Things

If you need financial aid to help you pay for college, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The 2017–18 FAFSA will be available on October 1, 2016—three months earlier than usual—at 12 a.m. Central time. You should fill it out as soon as possible on the official government site, fafsa.gov.

To speed up the FAFSA process, get prepared early. Here is what you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA:

If you’re a dependent student, you will need certain information for your parents as well; we’ve indicated each of those items with an asterisk (*) below.

1. Your FSA ID*

An FSA ID is a username and password that you must use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites, including fafsa.gov.

  • Anyone who plans to fill out the 2017–18 FAFSA should create an FSA ID as soon as possible.
  • If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, your parent should create an FSA ID too.
  • Because your FSA ID is equivalent to your signature, parents and students each need to create their own FSA IDs using separate email addresses. Parents should not create an FSA ID for their child and vice versa.
  • In some situations, you may need to wait up to three days to use your FSA ID after creating it. If you want to avoid FAFSA delays, create your FSA ID now.

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Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA ASAP

Why you should fill out the FAFSA ASAP

Spoiler alert: college is really expensive. Begging the government for money can make it more affordable! Such begging is done in the form of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—FAFSA® for short. In order to maximize the amount of aid you can get, it’s very important that you fill out your FAFSA early.

In my experience, filling out the FAFSA is not super quick and easy. While you can do it in one sitting, it’s a bit of a process. That’s why it’s best to get a solid start on it so you’re not overwhelmed with it just before a deadline. Here are some tips to help you prep for and fill out your FAFSA.

And here’s some info about when you CAN fill out your FAFSA versus when you SHOULD fill out your FAFSA. There can be a big difference!

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7 Myths About the 2017–18 FAFSA Debunked

7 Myths About the 2017-18 FAFSA Debunked

You might have heard that the next FAFSA® will be available on October 1, 2016 as opposed to January 1, 2017. Well, it’s not a myth! If you (or your child) are planning to go to college during the 2017–18 academic year, you’ll want to make sure you have your facts straight. Check out the 7 myths about the FAFSA below.


MYTH 1:
I used 2015 tax information last year and didn’t get any aid, so it’s pointless to fill out the FAFSA again.

FACT: Not pointless! Your aid award could be different this year.
If you filed a 2016–17 FAFSA and received an award letter from your school, don’t assume that next year’s financial aid award will be the same. We ask you to complete the FAFSA annually because the factors used to calculate your aid could change each year. Things like your year in school, family income, and cost of attendance at your school are just a few factors used to determine your aid. You never know what aid you may get if you don’t complete the FAFSA, so don’t let last year’s award deter you from potential aid you may receive this year. Even if you did not get the Federal Pell Grant last year, you could still be eligible for other types of aid this year. This includes work-study and low-interest loans. Also, many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA to be considered for their aid as well.

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Counselors: 5 Creative Ways to Help with the Financial Aid Planning Process

Student and a counselor at College Depot, Phoenix Public Library.

Student and a counselor at College Depot, Phoenix Public Library.

This past spring, I had the pleasure of traveling out to Phoenix, Arizona to meet with various counselors, mentors, and college access professionals to learn more about how they are getting ready for the upcoming FAFSA season. With the FAFSA launching earlier this year on October 1, many of you have started to organize events and prepare to help students and parents through the financial aid process. As a former college counselor, my biggest piece of advice to you is to familiarize yourself with the Financial Aid Toolkit. It is a goldmine of information that can help answer many of your questions and assist with your financial aid planning process. Also, here’s some advice from a few of our key partners on how to make this process fun and exciting.

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2 Major FAFSA® Changes You Need to Be Aware Of

FAFSA Changes shocked girl

There are two exciting changes coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) process this year.

1. The 2017–18 FAFSA will be available earlier.

You can file your 2017–18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, enabling you to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as October 1 every year.

2. You’ll use earlier income and tax information.

Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you’ll be required to report income and tax info from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, you—and your parent(s), as appropriate—will report your 2015 income and tax info, rather than your 2016 income and tax info.

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10 Common Tweets @FAFSA Gets on Twitter

Student on laptop.

We’ve been answering a lot of your back-to-school comments and questions on Twitter! Here are some of the most popular tweets we get, with our answers:


1. We get this question so many times a day! Your school will disburse (pay out) your financial aid, not the federal government. Since each school has a different timeline for awarding aid, you’ll have to call your school’s financial aid office to find out the specific date.


2. College can be expensive, we know! We provide as much aid as we can based on the information you provided on your FAFSA. There are many factors we take into account, like your year in school and how much it costs to attend your school. If you need more financial aid, here are 7 options you should consider. Make sure you look into applying for local scholarships or talk to your school’s financial aid office for personalized advice.


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9 Myths About the FSA ID

Get an FSA ID

As a graduate student, I‘m no stranger to filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), and when I filed my 2016-17 FAFSA, I was prompted to create an FSA ID—the username and password you need to log in to the FAFSA. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and voila! I easily created my very own FSA ID in no time!

2016-17 FAFSA Login with FSA ID

Login options on fafsa.gov

The FSA ID replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN (check out this blog post explaining why). Students, parents, and borrowers must use an FSA ID to log on to certain Department of Education (ED) websites like fafsa.gov, StudentAid.gov, and StudentLoans.gov. The FSA ID is a more secure way to access and sign important documents without using personally identifiable information (PII).

More than 30 million FSA IDs have been created, and people, like me, have used their FSA ID more than 146 million* times. With any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those right now…

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No, You Won’t Be Arrested For Falling Behind On Your Student Loans

Student-Loan-Repayment-2

Today, more than ever before, a college diploma or job-training credential is one of the best investments you can make in your future. By some estimates, a bachelor’s degree is worth an average of a million dollars over the course of your lifetime.

But college also has never been more expensive, and far too many Americans are struggling to pay off their student loan debt.

Maybe you haven’t quite landed that dream job in your field of study yet. Or you decided to go into public service instead of taking the highest-paying offer. Your reward for investing your time and money in the skills and knowledge needed to secure your future shouldn’t be a sky-high monthly payment.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Financial Aid Award

Generally, the first step in applying for financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The schools you listed on the FAFSA will take that information and use it to calculate the financial aid you’re eligible for.  Your financial aid awards may vary from school to school based on a number of factors including: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number of credits you will take each term, your cost of attendance (COA) at each school, your eligibility for state and institutional aid at each school, and your year in school. Keep in mind that many schools have a priority deadline, so the sooner you apply each year, the better. Here are 5 things that will help you better understand how financial aid is awarded:

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Scholarship Basics and Tips

Scholarship image

We all know college is super expensive; not only do you have to pay tuition, but there’s also room and board (for those of you staying on campus), a meal plan (yay for cafeteria food…), and textbooks (buying hundred-dollar books for one chapter). It’s a lot. Luckily for us, there’s help: scholarships! Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be awarded any money, and sometimes it can seem like a whole lot of work for a whole lot of nothing. But that’s why I’m here! I’ve gone through the process recently (and am doing it again), and I’m at your service with suggestions and tips.

A lot of these tips come from StudentAid.gov/scholarships, so check out that page for a more comprehensive, detailed guide to scholarships.


 Types of Scholarships

There are scholarships for almost everything—all you have to do is look. Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be tedious—find scholarships for things you’re passionate about. Some scholarships are really cool. There are scholarships for animal rescue, volunteering with the elderly, etc.; you can find them through specific organizations, too.

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How to Update Your FAFSA After Filing Taxes

It's time to update your FAFSA

Did you submit your 2016–17 FAFSA® before you (and your parents, if you’re a dependent student) filed your 2015 taxes? If so, it’s time to return to your application to update the information you estimated with the actual numbers from your 2015 tax return.

The easiest way to update your tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). It allows you to transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA! Check to see if your tax return is available and if you’re eligible to use the tool. You usually have to wait a few weeks after filing your taxes before you can use the IRS DRT, but this tool can save you lots of time.

To update your FAFSA:

Step 1

Go to fafsa.gov and click Login.

Step 2

Students: Log in to the FAFSA using your FSA ID.
Parents:  Your child must initiate the FAFSA correction process by logging in first, continuing to Step #3, and creating a Save Key*. If you need to make corrections to your child’s FAFSA, get the Save Key from your child. Once you do, you can log in by entering the student’s information. The FAFSA will ask you to enter the “Save Key” if you wish to continue.
FAFSA login screen

*A Save Key is a temporary password meant to be shared between you and your child. It lets you and your child pass the FAFSA back and forth and allows you to save the FAFSA and return to it later. This is especially helpful if you and your child are completing the FAFSA, but are not in the same place.

Step 3

Click Make FAFSA Corrections.

Make FAFSA Corrections

Step 4

Navigate to the “Financial Information” section.

Step 5

Change your answer from “Will file” to Already completed.

2016-17 - Taxes Completed

Click to enlarge.

If you’re eligible to use the IRS DRT, you’ll see a Link to IRS button. If you’re not eligible to use the IRS DRT, you can manually enter the data from your completed tax return.

Step 6

Click Link to IRS and log in with the IRS to retrieve your tax information.

  • Enter the requested information exactly as it appears on your tax return.
IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

Click to enlarge

 

  • Review your information to see what tax data will be transferred into your FAFSA.
  • Check Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA, and click Transfer Now to return to the FAFSA.
IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

Click to enlarge

 

Step 7

Review the data that was transferred to your FAFSA, and click Next.

Step 8

Sign and submit your updated FAFSA using your FSA ID.

Once you’ve made updates at fafsa.gov, your changes will be processed in about three days. You’ll receive a revised Student Aid Report (SAR) showing the changes made to your application. Each school you listed on your FAFSA can access the revised information one day after it’s processed.

Remember, some state and school financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, log in today to update your FAFSA!

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid