FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you have an interest in receiving student aid to attend college, you need to file your FAFSA. FAFSA itself does not provide any financial aid, but it is a universal application for most grants and scholarships across the United States. FAFSA’s goal is to make the application process easier for students and schools.
For students, FAFSA is helpful because it places your applications into a single document. Most students apply for several scholarships or grants, and students have an easier time getting help with financial aid when everything is under one form, since counselors learn one application instead of memorizing the application processes for all available scholarships or grants. For schools, FAFSA makes it easier to keep track of who has applied and is eligible for financial aid. FAFSA is generally easy to use, but there are several common mistakes to avoid.
Understanding FAFSA Deadlines
One of the most complicated parts of FAFSA has to do with deadlines. The issue with deadlines is not technically because of FAFSA. As of writing, the FAFSA deadline is always June 30th in the following year after the last FAFSA deadline. With this deadline, there is an 18-month cycle for new applicants to participate in FAFSA. It is important to note you cannot rely solely on FAFSA deadlines. When you are looking at financial aid deadlines, you need to know the deadlines for the following:
- School deadlines.
- Scholarship and grant deadlines.
- Income tax deadlines.
Every college has a separate deadline for financial aid. The schedule is largely based around when the semester starts for the college. If you submit FAFSA after a semester begins, you cannot rely on financial aid for the year. Many scholarships and grants use separate deadlines from the one provided by the FAFSA form.
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The reason income tax deadlines matter is because FAFSA uses your yearly income and other tax information to calculate the amount of aid you receive. You want to file for FAFSA using whichever information is most beneficial. If you had a substantial pay increase, you may no longer be eligible for certain grants or scholarships, so apply before you file your income taxes to use the previous year amount. Similarly, if you made less compared to the previous year, try and wait until after you filed your taxes, so you can use your new income information.
Worrying About Income
A common concern many potential applicants have is making too much money to qualify for FAFSA. Because FAFSA is a universal application, it does not have any requirements. It helps to think of your FAFSA as a database for your financial information. Grant and scholarship providers look at your database of information and compare it to their requirements. In some circumstances, your income does not matter at all. For example, many scholarships are primarily based on educational merits.
How to Get Your FSA ID
Before you can complete a FAFSA form, you need an FSA ID. It typically takes up to three days for your FSA ID request to process. Your FSA ID acts as your username and account for not only the FAFSA website, but several other websites run by the U.S. Department of Education. If you are a dependent student, you and your parent need a separate FSA ID. Do not try and save time by using the same FSA ID. It only causes issues when it comes time to receive financial aid, and it may cause you to become ineligible for certain financial aid options.
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In addition to requesting an ID, always make sure you are using the correct websites. FAFSA is run by the U.S. Department of Educations, so it uses a .gov address. Many scam websites use different addresses, such as .com or .net. These scam sites charge money to complete FAFSA forms. Official FAFSA registration never requires paying fees. If you end up on a website asking for fees, do not enter any personal information on this page.
When you are using the official website, make sure you are logged in with the correct FSA ID. If you and your parent are making an ID at the same time, tell your parent to wait until your ID has arrived. Parents have the option of entering the FSA ID of their child, which directly copies the necessary information from the child’s account. Not only is this convenient, but it keeps you from accidentally submitting the wrong information for your child.
How to Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
For most applicants, the most difficult part of completing a FAFSA form is completing the financial sections. The financial sections are longer than most other sections and require precise information. To make the process easier, FAFSA teamed up with the IRS to create the IRS data retrieval tool, IRS DRT. If you want to use IRS DRT, you need to link your account to the IRS. Linking your accounts only requires pressing a button on your FAFSA account. To clear any confusion on whether the information correctly transferred, your FAFSA account displays transferred from the IRS after your accounts are linked together.
How to Check Every Section
Before you submit your FAFSA form, make sure every section is correctly filled out. It seems like a basic step, but the FAFSA form is divided into several sections of varying sizes, and in most situations, you fill the application in over time, not in one sitting. It is not uncommon to leave one or two portions of a section incomplete because you are waiting for the relevant information, only to forget to input the information once it arrives. If you are a parent, make sure you did not input your information in the student section. Both parents and students share many of the same sections, so it is easy to confuse the two. Finally, make sure your FAFSA form is signed before you submit it.
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