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.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 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 applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or Nationwide Bank, 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 1/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* 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.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.25% – 13.25%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.07% – 12.78%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.62% – 11.47%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.38% – 13.38%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.48% – 12.35%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|