Every October 1, it officially becomes FAFSA time!
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the online application that you (and your parents) complete to apply for federal grants, work-study, and student loans. Having assisted students with the financial aid process for close to ten years, here are some commonly asked questions to help you get ready to file (or renew!) your FAFSA.
Q: When and where should I file the FAFSA?
A: Complete the FAFSA online. Every new FAFSA becomes available on October 1. Unless your college tells you otherwise, try to get your FAFSA completed in October, November, or December. If you would like free assistance, reach out to EducationQuest Foundation.
Q: What semester(s) does the FAFSA Cover?
A: The newest FAFSA is the 2021-2022 application. That FAFSA tells you what federal financial aid you qualify for, to be used during fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters. That FAFSA will ask for 2019 federal tax information. For a complete list of information needed for the FAFSA, use EducationQuest’s FAFSA Checklist.
Also available is the older FAFSA application, the 2020-2021 application. That is the FAFSA that covered Fall 2020 and will cover Spring 2021. It is also the FAFSA that asks for 2018 federal tax information. You can see the older checklist at 20-21 FAFSA Checklist.
Q: I keep hearing about FSA ID usernames and passwords. What’s that about?
A: In order to access the online FAFSA and to electronically sign and submit the form, an FSA ID username and password account is needed. Each student who plans to fill out a FAFSA will need to create this account, and one parent will need their own account (username and password), so that they can electronically sign their child’s FAFSA. When you create these accounts, make sure you input your correct Social Security number, Date of Birth, and legal name. It all has to match what the government has on file for you, or your account will “bounce-back” and you may have to start completely over. Here are some additional instructions on how to create your FSA ID.
HINT: After you create your username and password, write it down or keep it somewhere safe and private! You will need that information every time you renew your FAFSA. Many families have told me that they keep their usernames and passwords in the same folder or filing cabinet that they keep their tax returns.
Q: If my parents already have an FSA ID from filing the FAFSA for my older sibling, do they need a new FSA ID when filing for me?
A: No. If your parents created a username and password during or after 2015, they would use that same account to sign your FAFSA. Remember, each individual only gets one FSA ID because it requires personal information (such as Social Security number). If they forgot their FSA ID, retrieve it here.
Q: What financial information is needed for the FAFSA?
A: The FAFSA will ask about the previous year’s tax return and financial information for you and your parent(s). This includes both income and assets (such as stocks, bonds, CDs, mutual funds, money market accounts, or college savings plans). To learn more, use our FAFSA Tutorial.
Note: The FAFSA does not ask about the value of your parent’s primary home or retirement accounts such as 401(k) or IRAs. If you’re interested in doing a “practice” FAFSA, use the College Funding Estimator from EducationQuest.
Q: What if my parents are divorced or separated? Which parent’s info should I use?
A: In this situation, the question then becomes: out of the two biological/adoptive parents, which one provides majority support to you? (Typically, that means who do you live with most?). If you’re still unsure, reach out to your college’s financial aid office, or contact your nearest EducationQuest location.
Q: Will filing the FAFSA obligate me to take out student loans?
A: No! The FAFSA will simply calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which tells the college what kind of financial aid they can award you. Think of the EFC as the FAFSA result number, or your family’s capacity to pay for college based on all the previous financial questions. With an EFC, a college can then generate a financial aid award offer, which lists all the types of aid you are eligible to receive. Then, it is up to you to accept or decline student loans.
Q: Where can I find free help to file my FAFSA?
A: Contact your nearest EducationQuest office, we are happy to provide free assistance!