In our recent blog post, “Demystifying FAFSA for Parents: Everything You Need to Know,” we laid the groundwork for understanding the significance and basics of FAFSA. Today’s post will build upon that knowledge and walk you through filling out the FAFSA. From gathering the necessary documents to navigating the sections of the application, we aim to make this essential task as straightforward as possible.
You may have heard or experienced that filling out the FAFSA form takes hours. The good news is the new form launching in December will take an hour or less to complete. The number of questions has been reduced from over 100 to 50. Additionally, your tax information is pre-populated in the system.
Who should fill out the FAFSA?
Both the student and the contributors need to complete the FAFSA.
What is a contributor?
Contributor refers to anyone required to provide information as part of a student’s FAFSA, such as a parent/step-parent or adoptive parent. Being a contributor does not mean they are financially responsible for the student’s education costs, but the contributor must provide information on the FAFSA, or the application will be considered incomplete. Suppose the student is required to include data from contributors in their FAFSA and does not. In that case, the FAFSA will remain unfinished, and a calculation for federal aid eligibility cannot occur.
How to Get Started
The first step is for your student to create an account on studentaid.gov. To make the account, they will need to provide the following:
- First and Last Name
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number (this is optional but will help in the process)
- State of Residence
- Email and/or phone number (this will aid in regaining access to the account when needed)
Once they create an account, students can add contributors to their account. The contributors will receive emails to access and complete their registration. It’s highly recommended to create these accounts now. You don’t have to wait until the FAFSA form is open for submission in December, and it’s one less thing to do once the application window opens.
Preparing to Complete the FAFSA Form
You should have the following documents on hand while filling out the form in case you need to enter information manually:
- 2022 Tax Returns (the government always looks at data from returns from two years ago when determining aid)
- Records of child support, if applicable
- Current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts
- Net worth of investments, businesses, and farms
Your student must also provide information on checking, savings, investments, and business.
Filling out the FAFSA Form
While tax information is pre-populated, you may need to enter data manually. For example, if you were married and filing jointly in 2022 but divorced in 2023, you must enter the information manually. The parent providing the most financial support must fill in the report.
This video from the Federal Student Aid organization provides a significant step-by-step overview of how to fill out the form.
Differences From Prior Years
If you have completed the FAFSA in prior years, you should know about a few additional changes.
Student Aid Index versus Estimated Family Contribution: The SAI works similarly to the EFC, but the new name reflects how the index works more accurately. There are some fundamental changes to note (Source – forbes.com):
- Range: The lowest EFC you can receive is $0. But applicants can now receive an SAI as low as -$1,500, helping to cover expenses not included in the school’s published cost of attendance.
- Pell Grant eligibility: Students can see if they are eligible for Pell Grants before applying for financial aid. The SAI will be used to calculate Pell Grants for students who don’t qualify based on their adjusted gross income alone.
The Student Aid Index (SAI) determines how much money you might need for school. Think of it like a score that tells colleges about your family’s money situation. The lower your SAI, the more financial aid you might get. This aid can come as grants (which you don’t have to pay back) or loans (which you do).
Consent and approval: This is needed to get federal aid. You will provide consent for the IRS to transfer your federal tax information to the FAFSA form. Even if you don’t have an SSN or file taxes, you still have to provide consent; otherwise, your student will not be eligible for federal student aid. By giving consent, you enable the US Department of Education to assess your eligibility for financial assistance and share your information with colleges.
Number of students in college is no longer factored – The number of family members in college is no longer a factor in the need analysis. Schools may use professional judgment to adjust other data items related to the cost of attendance or SAI that reflect costs associated with additional family members enrolled in college.
401K Contributions are no longer factored into the calculation – This is a positive change because previously, they could make it seem like you could afford more than you actually could. Here is a clip from Good Morning America to learn more.
Gifts from others are not included – Money that grandparents and others provide to students for their college education can be excluded from factoring needs.
An essential FAFSA tip is that financial aid is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you submit your application, the better your chance of securing federal funds. While the application typically opens in December, the exact date remains to be determined. Ensure to set a reminder for December 1st and check daily for the opening date.
We hope this walkthrough has been valuable in helping you navigate the FAFSA application process with confidence. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to provide your family with the support and information you need to make your financial aid journey as smooth as possible.