By now, you have likely heard about the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA will open on October 1st this year, so this is a one month heads up so you can be prepared and ready to file when it opens. I'm going to use this email as an explanation of what the FAFSA is, when to file it, what to have ready, etc.
What it is: "FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is used to determine the amount of money a family is expected to contribute to the price of attending a postsecondary institution. The results of the FAFSA are used in determining student grants, work study, and loan amounts."
Why it's important: Filing the FAFSA is important, regardless of whether or not you think you will qualify for financial aid. It's well worth your time to do so (plus it's easy, so no excuses). After you file the FAFSA, you will receive your formal financial aid offer. It's only then you will know how much your education is going to cost (this is a reason you should consider waiting to accept an admissions offer until after you receive the financial aid offer if finances are an important part of the equation). The FAFSA also serves as the paperwork necessary to qualify for federal loans (all students, regardless of income, qualify for some subsidized federal loans). The interest rate you will get is way better than the bank for these federal subsidized loans.
What can I do right now? This year, there is no longer a PIN for the FAFSA; it has been replaced by what is called the FSA ID. The FSA ID is how you submit the FAFSA electronically. It serves as your certified digital signature. You can sign up for this now (and I recommend you do so). Both you and your student will need an FSA ID to complete the FAFSA. You can get that set up right now through this link: https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm
When can I file the FAFSA? Starting October 1st, you will be able to use that FSA ID to complete the FAFSA. October 1 is the earliest you can complete the form (this is a much earlier deadline -- it used to be January 1. Parents who have filed before, take note!). I recommend doing it as soon after October 1st as possible. You do not need to have filed this year's taxes to complete the FAFSA. Instead, you'll be using tax information from the most recently filed tax year (this is also a new change, called Prior-Prior-Year. You can read more about that here). The important thing is filing early.
Where do I go to file the FAFSA? This is the link you can use to file the FAFSA starting in January: https://fafsa.ed.gov
What do I need to have ready?
- Your Social Security Number
- Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
If you have any questions about how to file the FAFSA, there are numerous free resources out there. I am including here a super in depth guide put out by a company called Edvisors, which specializes in college financial aid consulting. It's a terrific guide.
For nuanced or unique questions, I would consult the website finaid.org.
One more thing to be aware of with financial aid forms is that there are several colleges, especially private colleges, that require additional forms like the CSS profile or a university specific financial aid form. To check to see if any of your colleges require the CSS Profile (in addition to the FAFSA), you can check this link: https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/prf/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet.srv
For every school to which you have applied, you should consult the school's financial aid webpage. Check the deadlines and requirements for each college.
I hope your fall is off to a great start. I am thankful for so many things, and working with awesome students and families is one of the most important in my life. I truly love what I do and I am honored and thankful to you for allowing me the opportunity.
Let me know if you have any questions! And feel free to forward this guide along to other families if they will benefit.