Ultimate Guide to Filling Out and Filing Your FAFSA by the Deadline

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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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LenderVariable APREligibility 
* 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.

CollegeAve Disclosures

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.

(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount.  The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 11/4/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. Lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.00% as of January 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

  1.  Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of February 1, 2020,the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.66%. Variable interest rates range from 4.22% – 7.81% (4.22% – 7.81% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.36% – 7.95% (4.36% – 7.95% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown for eligible, creditworthy applicants with an undergraduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discount of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance,including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review. 

Citizens Bank Student Loan Eligibility: Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution. Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or an international borrower/eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For borrowers who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank- participating school. 
Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan. 

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

2.84%
10.97%
1
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

2.75% – 10.65%*,2Undergraduate and Graduate

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2.80%
11.37%
3
Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

4.22% – 7.81%5Undergraduate and Graduate

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.