How Long to Fill Out the FAFSA? Here’s How to Finish in an Hour or Less

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When applying for federal student aid, including loans and grants, your first crucial step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out forms, admittedly, is no one’s idea of fun. And if you have never done it before, you may be wondering: How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

The news is better than you may think: If you prepare ahead of time, you can fill out the FAFSA pretty quickly. And eventually, due to the FUTURE Act passed in 2019, the form may take even less time for some to fill out than it does now.

Here are answers to some key questions, such as…

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?
How to fill out the FAFSA — fast
Faster FAFSA process ahead with the FUTURE Act?
Don’t be intimidated by the FAFSA

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

The answer depends on who you ask, but fafsa.ed says it takes most people less than an hour to fill out and submit the FAFSA.

If you have all your documents and information ready before you sit down to fill out the form — such as your and your parents’ W2s, bank statements, Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses — it should speed up the process significantly.

It’s wise to fill out the FAFSA as soon as it’s available: Oct. 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. Applying as early as possible will also give you more time to negotiate your financial aid package.

How to fill out the FAFSA — fast

First, you’ll want to figure out how you’re going to fill out the form. There are multiple ways to do so — you can either fill out the form online at fafsa.gov, or by using the myStudentAid mobile app, or you can complete a FAFSA PDF by hand, the old-fashioned way. Keep in mind that the old-fashioned way also involves sending the form out by snail mail, and it will increase the processing time (five to seven days instead of three to five), so this isn’t the best option if you’re looking to speed things up.

Now here are four tips for filling out the FAFSA faster, and some information on how the process might be sped up even more:

1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID
2. Know your schools ahead of time
3. Gather your parents’ information
4. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID

You will need to create an FSA ID to get the process started. Consider your FAFSA ID to be your signature. Don’t lose it, as it can be difficult to retrieve. If you’re including any information about your parents, one of them should also create a FAFSA ID.

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 in order to save time once you’re actually ready to fill out the form. Before you sit down to create the FSA ID on fafsa.gov, make sure you have your Social Security card, as you’ll need to enter it into the online form to create the ID.

2. Know your schools ahead of time

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

If you’re not exactly sure yet what your top-choice schools are, that’s OK. But you should brainstorm a list of up to 10 schools before you sit down to fill out the form. You can always make changes to your FAFSA form later if need be.

3. Gather your parents’ information

When filling out the FAFSA, your parents will have to provide information as well information as well, as long as you are a dependent student. First, if you are unsure of whether or not you are a dependent, you can determine your status here. If your family situation is a bit complicated, you can also go here to find out who might count as a parent for FAFSA purposes. Know the information your parent or parents will have to provide, including date of birth, Social Security number and financial facts including tax and asset information. Having your parent or parents gather all the needed information ahead of time should be a time-saver when it’s time to fill out the FAFSA.

4. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

You should have access to last year’s tax returns before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA, if you filed, but in many cases, your tax information can be imported automatically through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Because the FAFSA uses last year’s tax returns, you won’t have to estimate your tax information. All you’ll have to do is import your information directly from the IRS site, as long as you filed taxes last year, and the tax information fields on the FAFSA will be pre-populated. Talk about a time-saver. Be aware that you won’t be able to edit any of the information once it’s imported.

Speaking of tools, Frank is a web tool that may be able to help you fill out the FAFSA even faster at no cost to you. The site claims that it can help you fill out the FAFSA in four minutes, as it does a good amount of the “heavy lifting” for you. There’s no cost, so it may be worth trying to see if it can help you shave off even more time from the FAFSA-filling process.

Faster FAFSA process ahead with the FUTURE Act?

In 2019, the FUTURE Act was signed into law. Among other things, the act made changes to the FAFSA process that should shorten the time it takes to complete, particularly for some students.

For example, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is helpful for many students, but some (for example, those who are married but file separately, or those who do not file taxes at all), it is more difficult to use effectively. The new law, according to reports, will allow the tax information (or lack thereof) of these applicants to be shared by the IRS.

This could eliminate 22 additional questions they may now have to answer on the form. This also may actually help further eliminate the need for income verification, which can be a drag on the process for many students, particularly those with lower income.

As of the time this article was published, it was not clear when these changes would actually take effect, but they reportedly are not slated to do so for the 2020-2021 school year.

Don’t be intimidated by the FAFSA

As you can see, filling out the FAFSA doesn’t have to take hours, and the process can be relatively easy. Use the tips above, and you should feel more prepared to quickly fill out the form.

You should also know that, once you fill out the form the first time, you can fill out a renewal FAFSA every other year that you are applying for federal aid. This means your information from the previous year will automatically be filled in, so you’ll only have to make changes where necessary. This is also a nice time-saver to look forward to.

For more on the FAFSA, you can go here for some answers to 15 of your most burning FAFSA questions.

Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.

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3.52% – 9.50%6Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

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

2 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. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay 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. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student 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 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 7/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


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 APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate 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. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may 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. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
  5. Get a variable interest rate from 2.37% APR to 6.14% APR (3-Month LIBOR + 2.00% to 3-Month LIBOR + 5.77%) for either a 10-year or 20-year repayment term. Or lock in a fixed interest rate from 3.99% APR to 7.49% APR for a 10-year repayment term or from 4.24% APR to 7.74% APR for a 20-year repayment term. 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 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may 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.
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.

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).


5 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

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.

  1. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.667%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 06/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
    1. Undergraduate Loans: Variable rate loans have an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 2.73% – 13.01%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 3.84% – 14.50% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
    2. Graduate Loans: Loans have an APR range between 4.11% and 10.78% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25%. (See Graduate Loan repayment examples.)
  2. Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
  3. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  4. Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
  5. Interest rate reduction of 0.25% for enrollment in automatic debit applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner signs up for automatic payments and the regularly scheduled, current amount due (including full, flat, or interest only payments, as applicable) is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of In-School, Deferment, Grace or Forbearance. If you have two (2) returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the 0.25% interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the 0.25% interest rate reduction.
  6. All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
  7. Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
  8. The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
  9. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:
    • The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
    • The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
    • The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
    • Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.
  10. Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.


6 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.

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.