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.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
1.04% – 11.98%1Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%*,2Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit SallieMae

1.04% – 11.44%3Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.85% – 11.35%4Undergraduate

Visit Ascent

2.20% – 6.17%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit EdvestinU

1.12% – 10.22%6Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

1.12% – 11.23%7Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.15% – 11.01%8Undergraduate and Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

N/A9Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit FundingU

* 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.

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.
 
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 7/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and 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 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).


4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs

Rates are effective as of 08/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). 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. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


5 Important Disclosures for EdvestinU.

EdvestinU Disclosures

EDvestinU is a product of the nonprofit New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation (dba The NHHEAF Network) NMLS ID#1527348.

APR range and repayment rates displayed assume a $10,000 loan disbursed in two equal disbursements. APR low assumes immediate repayment and 7 year repayment. APR high assumes deferred repayment and 15 year repayment. APR’s presented include a .50% interest rate reduction for electing to have payments automatically deducted from a bank account. The interest rate reduction for authorizing our servicer to automatically deduct monthly payments from a savings or checking account will not reduce the monthly payment, but will reduce the monthly finance charge, resulting in a lower total cost of loan. All examples are provided for educational purposes and actual terms may vary based on credit history, loan amount, applicable repayment term, and chosen repayment plan and method. Please note that the interest rate on variable rate programs may increase or decrease over time. The variable rate example assumes the same standard rate for the life of the loan. The NHHEAF Network reserves the right to modify or cancel its program at any time.  

Eligibility: Dependent and independent U.S. citizen students. Currently residents of Washington and California are not eligible for EDvestinU programs.
Students must be enrolled at least half-time at a U.S.-based Title IV, degree-granting college or university.
The borrower or cosigner (if applicable) must have a minimum adjusted gross income of $30,000.

Loan Limits: Minimum loan amount of $1,000.
Maximum loan amount is cost of education less aid received.

Repayment: Standard or graduated repayment options available during repayment; 7, 10, or 15 year term selected by the borrower.
6-month grace period available to borrowers electing a full in-school deferment. 
No prepayment penalty.
Payments may be postponed during repayment by qualifying for an economic hardship deferment.

Cosigner Release: Cosigner release allowed if an account is in current standing, after 36 months of consecutive & on-time payments with a borrower FICO >749 for EDvestinU Private Student Loans and minimum income requirement of $30,000 with no foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, unpaid tax liens, unpaid judgments or other public records having an open balance exceeding $100 during the last 7 years. The borrower must not currently be involved in bankruptcy proceeding or had any bankruptcy filings during the past 10 years and cannot have any defaults on education loans.


6 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

SHORT FORM

Lowest APRs shown for Discover undergraduate loans are available to the most creditworthy applicants, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.1

LONG FORM

1The 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 0.125% as of July 1, 2021. 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 APRs are only available to applicants with the best credit. The APR will be determined after an application is submitted. It will be based on credit history, the selected repayment option and other factors, including a cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). If a student does not have an established credit history, the student may find it difficult to qualify for a private student loan on their own or receive the lowest advertised rate. Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.

2 Aggregate loan limits apply.

3 Get a cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan when you earn at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in any academic period covered by the loan. Limitations Apply. Visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for terms and conditions.


7 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% 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 4/1/2021. 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).


8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are 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 June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

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.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, 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. 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 on our website 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.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants 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 any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, 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.

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.


9 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.