How to Complete Your FAFSA
As if filling out college applications and waiting on decisions were not stressful enough, the federal government has one more computer form for you to complete if you would like to be eligible for any federal aid or federal loans. And, many colleges require that you complete a FAFSA for any of their aid as well. Read How to Complete Your FAFSA for a guide to collecting the information you will need before you begin. You will also find a List of Terms and their definitions and other helpful hints.
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The general rule is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) whether you believe you will qualify for financial aid or not. The ONLY website you will need to complete the FAFSA is: https://fafsa.ed.gov. Do NOT be tricked by other websites that may charge you for assisting with filing your FAFSA. Filing the FAFSA is free through the .gov website. The form becomes available every year on October 1.
Most people complete the FAFSA online, but they do offer a printable FAFSA Form. This form may be also be downloaded at FAFSA.gov.
HOW TO COMPLETE YOUR FAFSA: BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION FROM THE FAFSA CHECKLIST:
- The social security number of the student
- The social security numbers of the parents
- The driver’s license of the student
- Prior year’s W-2s and income records for both student and parents. To file a 2023-2024 form, you will need your records from 2021. The 2022-2023 form will be available October 1, 2021.
- The federal tax returns for both the parents and the student
- Records of ALL assets – cash, real estate, and investments. You do NOT have to include the home you live in or any retirement funds, such as IRAs and 401Ks.
- Records of any untaxed income – child support, veteran’s benefits, etc. for both parent and student
HOW TO COMPLETE YOUR FAFSA: HERE ARE SOME TERMS (AND THEIR ACRONYMS) YOU MAY NOT BE FAMILIAR WITH:
- IRS DRT (Data Retrieval Tool): The IRS DRT will retrieve tax data and automatically fill in that information on the FAFSA form.
- SAR (Student Aid Report) :The SAR is a paper or electronic document that gives you some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid and lists your answers to the questions on your FAFSA.
- EFC (Expected Family Contribution): The EFC is how much money your family is expected to contribute to your education. The FAFSA will compute this amount based on your answers. Schools use the EFC to determine your federal student aid eligibility and financial aid award. It is not necessarily the amount you will end up paying, but is used by schools to determine your aid.
- COA (Cost of Attendance): The entire cost to attend school including tuition, fees, room and board, books, travel, and personal expenses
- Renewal FAFSA: The form you will fill out for subsequent school years after your initial filing. It will carry forward information from your previous FAFSA forms.
For more terms and their definitions, see the Federal Student Aid Glossary.
HOW TO COMPLETE YOUR FAFSA: OTHER INFORMATION TO HELP YOU COMPLETE YOUR FAFSA
- The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will focus primarily on: assets and income of parents and student, family size, and number of dependent children enrolled in college in a given year
- Assets you DO NOT HAVE TO LIST: family owned small business assets (if fewer than 100 employees), your home equity, retirement accounts, and personal assets (cars, clothing, household items)
- Assets you DO HAVE TO LIST: 529 accounts, assets not in retirement accounts, prepaid college plans, trust funds, collectibles, rental property not held in an LLC
- The Federal Deadline for the FAFSA is June 30. However, states and institutions that use the FAFSA to calculate aid may have different deadlines.
SHOULD YOU FILL OUT THE FAFSA IF YOU EXPECT ONLY MERIT AID?
Monica Matthews of How 2 Win Scholarships answers this question in her post Scholarships and the FAFSA.
Filing out a FAFSA is not the most fun experience in the world. I know because I have filled out the darn thing. Knowing How to Complete Your FAFSA and preparing ahead of time will save frustration later while you are in the midst of trying to file it. To receive a copy of the printable FAFSA Checklist with a list of information to collect before you begin, subscribe below. You will also receive the College Preparation Checklist for High School Juniors and the College Preparation Checklist for High School Seniors.