How to Fill Out the FAFSA in 4 Minutes or Less

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Which seemingly harmless collection of letters can send chills down the spines of college students across the country?

F-A-F-S-A — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

This form requires quite a bit of sensitive information, so completing it is a daunting prospect for many students and their parents.

But have no fear. Here are some tips for filling out the FAFSA faster than ever.

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

The answer depends on who you ask, but most people agree it takes between 30 minutes and one hour to fill out the FAFSA.

If you have all your documents ready — like your and your parents’ W2s, bank statements, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses — it’ll speed up the process significantly.

You also should grab last year’s tax returns, but in many cases, your tax information will be imported automatically through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Since the FAFSA now uses last year’s tax returns, you won’t have to estimate any tax information.

It’s wise to fill out the FAFSA as soon as it’s available: October 1 of the year before you need financial aid. Because schools have a limited amount of money, applying early could mean a bigger piece of the pie for you. It’ll also give you more time to negotiate your financial aid package.

How to fill out the FAFSA quickly

Ready to get started? Here are three tips for filling out the FAFSA more quickly.

1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID

You and your parent each will need to create an FSA ID. Don’t lose this number, as it’s difficult to retrieve.

It sometimes takes a while before you can use your FSA ID, so create yours a few days before you plan to complete the FAFSA.

2. Choose your schools

When you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to include the schools you’re applying to.

If you’re not sure yet, don’t panic. But you should brainstorm a list of up to 10 schools. You can add or remove them later.

And if you’re applying to any state schools, put them first on the list. If you don’t, you could miss out on state grants, according to Martha Holler, a Sallie Mae spokesperson quoted in Forbes.

3. Use a tool like FRANK

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA? If you want the answer to be “not long at all,” try Frank — a free web tool that helps you fill out the FAFSA.

“We are really proud that the language and organization of the form is easy enough for an 18-year-old to file on their own in under five minutes,” said Stefanie Buffa, a customer care manager for the company.

how long does it take to fill out the fafsa

Image credit: Frank

filling out the fafsa

Image credit: Frank

help filling out the fafsa

Image credit: Frank

how long does it take to fill out the fafsa

Image credit: Frank

Frank says it’s “everything the Department of Education is not” — “smart, transparent, and simple” — and in just a few months, it’s helped more than 60,000 families snag more than $1.5 billion in federal aid.

Its users seem to agree that it makes the process easier. On Facebook, its Verified Reviews tab shows a rating of 4.7 out of five.

Filling out the FAFSA doesn’t have to take hours. If you prepare and use the tips above, you’ll be applying for financial aid before you know it.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
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.
** 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.

1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


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

3 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 7/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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.
If you are unable to pay your government loan, the government can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount. In addition, the government has special powers to collect the loan, such as taking your tax refund and applying it to your loan balance.

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 you refinance your government loan, your new lender will use the proceeds of your new loan to pay off your government loan. Private student loan lenders do not have to honor any of the benefits that apply to government loans. Because your government loan will be gone after refinancing, you will lose any benefits that apply to that loan. If you are an active-duty service member, your new loan will not be eligible for service member benefits. Most importantly, once you refinance your government loan, you will not able to reinstate your government loan if you become dissatisfied with the terms of your private student loan.

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 are a borrower with a secure job, emergency savings, strong credit and are unlikely to need any of the options available to distressed borrowers of government loans, a refinance of your government loans into a private student loan may be attractive to you. You should consider the costs and benefits of refinancing carefully before 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.


5 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 2.50% as of July 1, 2019. 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 https://www.discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates.html for more information about interest rates.
3.99% – 11.44%1Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Earnest

3.98% – 11.35%*,2Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

3.96%
11.98%
3
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

3.66% – 9.64%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

3.87%
11.87%
**,5
Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

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.

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