If you’re still working your way through college or graduate school, you probably spend a lot of time trying to find the money to pay for it. By now, you know the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — is your gateway to getting your hands on federal financial aid.
Admittedly, the FAFSA application is a beast; there is a ton of information to fill out, plus strict deadlines that need to be met. But it’s crucial to fill out the FAFSA on time each year, which begs the question: What do you need to complete it?
Don’t worry — we’re here to help.
When is the FAFSA application due?
According to the FAFSA website, you can submit the form starting on Oct. 1. Keep track of FAFSA deadlines, too. The application remains open until the end of June, a year and a half later. You can also make changes for a few months after that.
It is important to note, however, that you should file as close to Oct. 1 as possible to get the most aid. Plus, state and institutional deadlines might fall earlier than the federal deadline. And in the case when the number of qualified applicants exceeds the amount of certain types of aid available, meeting the deadline is the best way to ensure you get what you need.
If you’re hoping to receive financial aid from a non-federal source that uses the FAFSA as a screening tool, look up the deadline well in advance to ensure you do not miss it.
In fact, it may be a good idea to submit the FAFSA application as soon as you have all the information necessary to complete the form.
What is required to fill out the FAFSA?
So what information is necessary to fill out the FAFSA? Typically, you will need your tax returns, as well as your parents’ tax returns if you are considered a dependent student. Your dependency status affects your application in other ways.
For example, you might not have control over when your parents’ tax information is available to you. In situations like these, the best course of action is to use the prior year’s tax returns to fill out the FAFSA for the upcoming year — particularly if your parents’ financial situation is relatively unchanged.
Remember, you have until late September to submit corrections or updates, so you can always go back and plug in the final numbers later rather than risk missing the deadline for FAFSA entirely.
How to apply for FAFSA
The FAFSA application may be filled out online or by mailing in a paper form. Filling out the FAFSA online ensures that it will be processed more quickly — three to five days compared to the paper form, which takes seven to 10 days to process.
Note that it’s always free to submit the FAFSA. There are some companies that require you to pay for FAFSA help; at the least, it’s unnecessary and a waste of money. Avoid FAFSA scams of all types.
It’s easier to edit and make corrections later if you file your FAFSA electronically because you can see your original answers to the questions. Electronic filing also ensures that this year’s FAFSA will remain easily accessible in subsequent years. That way, when you are ready to fill out the next year’s FAFSA, you will be able to see how you answered questions in the past.
Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to help you fill out the FAFSA by the deadline while simultaneously reducing the odds of errors. According to the FAFSA website, “The IRS Data Retrieval Tool allows students and parents to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and transfer the data directly into their FAFSA from the IRS Web site.”
Not everyone is eligible to use the IRS data retrieval tool, however. If you are eligible, it may be helpful.
Note that like the FAFSA, filing your taxes electronically rather than mailing in a paper form makes them available sooner. Electronic filers’ tax information is typically accessible two to three weeks after filing; those who mail in paper forms may have to wait eight to 11 weeks before they are able to use the data retrieval tool.
Don’t miss your chance to qualify for financial aid
The FAFSA is one of the most important resources available to help students pay for their college education. Even if you do not qualify for federal gift aid (which you don’t have to pay back), the FAFSA is how many lenders and other sources of aid determine eligibility for their programs.
Missing the deadline can have negative consequences, including having to take out private loans when it was not necessary to do so.
In other words, don’t delay — fill out your FAFSA today!
Andrew Pentis contributed to this article.
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|1.24% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
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|1.12% – 12.37%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.77% – 11.89%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
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|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 9/24/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.87% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.77% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.94% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.87% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 10/20/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.