11 Common FAFSA Mistakes

common-fafsa-mistakes

The 2017–18 FAFSA® is now available! This year, the FAFSA launched 3 months earlier than usual—on October 1, 2016.

Beginning this year, you’ll also be required to use earlier (2015) tax information than in previous years. How does that benefit you? Since you’ve already filed your 2015 taxes, you’ll be able to fill out your FAFSA right away without having to estimate your financial information! (And you won’t need to update your FAFSA after you file 2016 taxes.)

Start the FAFSA button

These exciting changes are sure to save you time and make the FAFSA much easier to complete. Just make sure to take your time so you don’t make one of these mistakes:


1. Not Completing the FAFSA

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes too long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. The FAFSA is not just the application for federal grants such as the Pell Grant. It’s also the application for work-study funds, low-interest federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by your state, school, or private organization. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you could lose out on thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes little time to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.

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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 is available now! The FAFSA launched 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

 

2 Major FAFSA Changes

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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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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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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5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA

After the FAFSA

Congratulations! You submitted your 2016–17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)! Wondering what happens next? Here are a few things to look out for:

1. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR)

After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you’ll get your SAR within three days (if you signed your FAFSA online) or three weeks (if you mailed a signature page.)

View your SAR

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Any student with an FSA ID can view and print his or her SAR by logging in to fafsa.gov and clicking on the appropriate school year. This is also where you can check the status of your application if you have not received your SAR yet. Once you get your SAR, you should review it carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete.

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Top 5 FAFSA FAQs for 2016–17

Have you completed the FAFSA? Don't wait!

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the first step in accessing the more than $150 billion available in federal student aid. To help you get a head start on your FAFSA, below are the answers to the top 5 questions we’ve been getting on our Facebook and Twitter accounts:

1. What is an FSA ID and do I need one?

The FSA ID is a username and password you use to log in to your FAFSA. You should get an FSA ID before you start the FAFSA. If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, one of your parents needs an FSA ID too. Keep in mind that parents should not be making an FSA ID for their child or vice versa.

2016-17 FAFSA Login with FSA ID

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Parents will use their FSA ID to sign a dependent child’s FAFSA. However, if they are unable to get an FSA ID, they can mail a signature page.

2016-17 FAFSA Parent Signature

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Go here to get an FSA ID now. The FSA ID does not define if you are a student or parent, the process of getting an FSA ID is the same for both.

2. How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed 2015 taxes yet?

When filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2015 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t received their Form W-2, let alone completed their 2015 taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from submitting the FAFSA! If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.

If your 2015 income is similar to your 2014 income, use your 2014 tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income. If your income is not similar, use the Income Estimator for assistance estimating your adjusted gross income, and answer the remaining questions about your income to the best of your ability. If you do not know your parent’s tax information, we have a guide on how to complete the FAFSA if you and your parent are not together.

2016-17 FAFSA Will File Taxes

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Note: Once you complete your 2015 tax return, you’ll need to update your FAFSA. When you do so, you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA. This allows you to transfer data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website.

 

3. When is the FAFSA deadline?

States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. It is important that you research all of these deadlines and complete the FAFSA by your earliest deadline. That being said, because some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.

Sample FAFSA Deadlines

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4. Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college. If you filled out a FAFSA last year and want to renew it, go to fafsa.gov, click “Login”, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.

2016-17- FAFSA Renewal

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5. Which FAFSA should I complete?

When you log into fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA” and “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?

2016-17 Start FAFSA

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  • If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA.”
  • If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, select “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.”

Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.

TIP: If you need to fill out both applications, complete the 2015–16 FAFSA first. That way, when you complete the 2016–17 FAFSA, a lot of your info will automatically roll over.

If you are applying for a summer session, or just don’t know which application to complete, check with the college you are planning to attend.


We hope this answers some of your questions! If you have additional questions about the FAFSA, you leave us a comment below. We also have videos on our YouTube channel. For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.

Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

 

Miles and miles apart? It’s easy for you and your child to fill out the FAFSA!

Mother and daughter hugging near car

If your child is a dependent student and is applying for federal student aid, youthe parent(s)may need to provide some of your information on and sign the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Now, it’s easier than ever for you and your child to complete the FAFSA…even if you’re not in the same place. Help is also available for every question, just look for the “Help and Hints” box on the right side of each screen.


Step 1: You and your child must each create an FSA ID

The first step to filling out the FAFSA is for you and your child to each create your own FSA ID, a username and password. The FSA ID replaces the Federal Student Aid PIN and is required to sign the FAFSA electronically.

IMPORTANT TIP #1: Do not create an FSA ID for your child. Let your child create his/her own. Otherwise, your child could experience problems or delays with his or her financial aid.


Step 2: Start the FAFSA

You or your child can start a new FAFSA. If your child starts the application, he or she should enter his or her FSA ID on the left side of the log-in page. But, if you start the application, select “Enter the student’s information” on the right. Be sure to follow the instructions on each screen to proceed.

IMPORTANT TIP #2: If the parent is starting the FAFSA, DO NOT enter your child’s FSA ID or your FSA ID on this page. Instead, click “Enter the student’s information.”

FAFSA Login Screen

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Step 3: Create a Save Key

After selecting which FAFSA you’d like to start, you’ll be given the option to create what’s called a “Save Key.” It’s a temporary password that lets you save an incomplete FAFSA, pass the FAFSA back and forth with your child, and return to the application later to add information. Think of it as your key to accessing the draft FAFSA.

Create Save Key Page

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IMPORTANT TIP #3: Once you create your Save Key, make a note of it. Unlike the FSA ID, you and your child can share the Save Key.

So, let’s say your child is away at school and starts his or her FAFSA. He or she can click the “SAVE” button at the bottom of the page and exit. You can then log in at FAFSA.gov using your child’s identifiers and the save key, and pick up where he or she left off!

FAFSA.gov Homepage

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Enter student's info to login to the FAFSA

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FAFSA continue application page

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From here, you can enter your financial information or any other information that’s missing from your child’s FAFSA.


Step 4: Sign and submit the FAFSA

After you and your child have filled out all the necessary information, you both need to sign the FAFSA. If you’re not in the same location, one of you can sign by navigating to the “Sign & Submit” section, entering your username and password (your FSA ID) clicking the “SIGN” button, saving, then closing the application. The other person can then log in at fafsa.gov using the Save Key, navigate to the “Sign & Submit” section, and sign the application using his or her FSA ID.

Make sure the parent who is signing with the FSA ID checks whether he/she is listed on the FAFSA as Parent 1 or Parent 2 and checks the appropriate box.

IMPORTANT TIP #4:  You and your child should enter your own FSA ID in the correct spot—student above and parent below.

Student signature page

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Parent signature page

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IMPORTANT TIP #5:  If you are a parent without a Social Security number, you will not be able to create an FSA ID and will not be able to sign the FAFSA electronically. But, your child can submit the FAFSA without a parent signature, then print a paper signature page for you to sign and return by mail.

Once you and your child have signed the FAFSA, click the blue “SUBMIT MY FAFSA NOW” button at the bottom of the page. Your child’s FAFSA is not submitted until you see the confirmation page. It’s a good idea to print the confirmation page for your records. If your child provided an e-mail address, he or she will receive a copy of the confirmation page by e-mail.

FAFSA confirmation page

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Next Steps

Once your child’s FAFSA is submitted, it will take three to five days to process. Information on your child’s FAFSA will be made available to the financial aid offices of the schools listed. The school or schools will use the information to determine what aid your child may be eligible to receive.

IMPORTANT TIP #6:  On the confirmation page, you’ll see an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Please note, the EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college or the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.

The confirmation page also provides some financial aid estimates. Please keep in mind that these are true estimates. You may qualify for different amounts or additional types of aid. In order to find out the exact amount and types of aid you’re eligible to receive, you’ll need to wait to receive an aid award from each school you listed.


Photo by Getty Images.

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.