How To Complete the FAFSA
Updated On September 5, 2023
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If you want to learn how to complete the FAFSA, this ultimate guide to complete the FAFSA will teach you everything you need to know.
What is the FAFSA? The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that all students complete to get financial aid for college. The U.S. Department of Education administers the FAFSA and determines how much financial aid you can qualify for.
Both parents and students must complete the FAFSA, if the student is considered a dependent. When completing the application, you will be asked for financial information about you and your family.
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In this guide, you will learn:
- FAFSA: Documents you need
- When to submit the FAFSA
- Step 1: Register for an FSA ID
- Step 2: Determine if you are a dependent
- Step 3: Enter personal information
- Step 4: List colleges and schools
- Step 5: Provide financial information
- Step 6: Sign and submit the FAFSA
FAFSA: Documents you need
Before you complete the application, it will be helpful to gather all the necessary documents you will need. The FAFSA is free to submit, and you must submit the FAFSA annually while you’re in school.
You should gather these documents in advance to make the process of completing the application simpler:
- Your Social Security Number
- Your parents’ Social Security Numbers
- Your Alien Registration number if you’re not a U.S. citizen
- Your driver’s license (if you have one)
- Income tax returns, or W-2 forms from your employers, for the last two years
- Income tax returns for your parents, if you’re a dependent student
- Financial information for you, including checking accounts, savings accounts, investments, 529 plans and other assets
- Records of your untaxed income – such as child support received, interest income and veterans noneducation benefits – for you and your parents, if you are a dependent student
- Financial information for your parents, including checking accounts, savings accounts, business accounts, real estate, business assets, farm assets, investments, 529 plans and other assets (excluding retirement accounts)
When you’re ready, you will submit the FAFSA at fafsa.gov. Alternatively, you can submit a paper version.
When to submit the FAFSA
It’s important to understand the deadline to file the FAFSA. You should complete the FAFSA and submit as soon as possible after October 1 of each year. Why? Financial aid is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, you will have the best chance of getting the financial aid you need when you submit the FAFSA early.
Here are the important deadlines for the FAFSA:
- Available: October 1 each year
- Due date: June 30 each year at 11:59 p.m. Central Time
- State and College Deadlines: Your state or college financial aid office may have different dates to submit than the official due date. Make sure to check with your state education agency and school to learn the best dates for financial aid.
Step 1: Register for the FSA ID
First, register for the Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). When you register for an FSA ID, you will create a login and password to submit your application electronically and sign your student loan documents.
Creating your FSA ID before you complete the FAFSA will save you time.
Step 2: Determine if you are a dependent
Second, determine if you are a dependent.
If you are a dependent student: Your parent will need to create a separate FSA ID. Why? Your parent will need a separate FSA ID to sign the FAFSA electronically. An FSA ID requires a Social Security Number.
If your parent doesn’t have a Social Security number, your parent will need to print the signature page and won’t be able to submit the FAFSA electronically.
If you’re an independent student: You won’t have to provide parent information. You are considered an independent student if:
- You have children or other dependents who receive 50% or more of support from you
- You’re an emancipated minor
- You’re married
- You’re separated but not divorced
- You’re at least 24-years-old
- You’re a graduate student
- You’re a veteran
Step 3: Enter personal information
Third, enter the requested personal information. Make sure your name and Social Security number match the information on your Social Security Card.
You don’t have to complete the entire FAFSA at once. For example, you can create a “save key.” A save key is a temporary password you can use to start your FAFSA, save it without finishing, and then open again in the future to finish completing your FAFSA. A save key is especially helpful if you and your parents are completing the FAFSA from different locations.
How do you renew your FAFSA from last year? If you want to renew your FAFSA from last year, follow these steps:
- Select “Log In” on the FAFSA home page
- Select “I am the student and want to access the FAFSA form”
- Enter your FSA ID
- Select “Renew my FAFSA Form”
By following these steps, many of the nonfinancial questions will be prepopulated for you. If any information, including financial information, has changed since last year, then make sure to update it.
Step 4: List colleges and schools
Fourth, list the colleges and schools to which you are applying. You can list up to 10 schools online and up to four schools on the FAFSA pdf.
The schools that you list will automatically receive your results electronically. At a minimum, you must list at least one school to receive your financial aid information. The schools that you list will then be used to determine the amounts and types of financial aid for which you can qualify.
To find which schools to include on your FAFSA, you can access the Federal School Code Search. You can add more schools to your FAFSA form later. However, you can rest assured that schools won’t be able to know the list of schools that you included on your form.
Step 5: Provide financial information
Fifth, provide financial information such as income tax information as well as checking and savings bank accounts.
If you’re a dependent, your parents will need to provide their financial information as well. This could include, but is not limited to, income tax information for the last two years, checking accounts, savings accounts, investments, 529 plans, business assets, farm assets, real estate and other assets (excluding retirement accounts).
If your or your family’s financial situation has changed, your financial aid can be adjusted. For example, if you lost your job or experienced a significant change in income, contact your school after completing and submitting the FAFSA. Then, you can discuss with your school how your financial situation has changed.
Step 6: Sign and submit the FAFSA
Finally, you must sign and submit the FAFSA. Here are some important tips to remember:
- Sign the FAFSA with your FSA ID
- You can submit the application online with your FSA ID. Alternatively, you can print, sign and mail in a signature page to the mailing address listed on the application.
- You will know that your application has been submitted successfully online when you see your confirmation page. If you provided an email address, you will also receive an email confirming submission.
- If you have a sibling who is also completing the FAFSA, you can choose to transfer automatically your parents’ information into your sibling’s application. You can select this option when you see a link on your confirmation page within the form.