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. Since this year's FAFSA launched, the Digital Engagement Team at Federal Student Aid has responded to hundreds of FAFSA questions via Federal Student Aid's social media accounts. (Yes, believe it or not, we do actually read what you tweet at us or write on our wall and do our best to respond to as much as we can!) In doing this, we've found that there are a few FAFSA questions that are asked a lot. We want to help clear up any confusion, so let's go through them:
Why do I have to pay to complete the FAFSA?
You don't! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. After all, the first "F" in FAFSA stands for FREE! There are companies that will charge you a fee to file your FAFSA, but you can always complete the FAFSA for free on the official government website: fafsa.gov. (Notice the .GOV!) If you need help with the application, we have resources available for free.
How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven't filed my taxes yet?
When filling out the FAFSA, you'll want to use financial information from the previous tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven't received their Form W-2, let alone completed their taxes. But that shouldn't stop you from completing 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 income is similar to your prior year's income, use your prior year's 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.
Note: Once you complete your taxes, 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, and transfer the data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website.
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.
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.
Which FAFSA should I complete?
When you log into www.fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options Which should you choose?
If you'll be attending college between July 1 of the current year and June 30, of next year start a FAFSA for the current year.
If you'll be attending college between July 1 of the next year and June 30, of the following year start a FAFSA for next year.
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 current year FAFSA first. That way, when you complete next year's 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.
Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.