FAFSA FAQ: 15 Answers to Your Most Burning FAFSA Questions

 March 31, 2021
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Everyone should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year they attend college or graduate school. This important form unlocks the door to federal financial aid, grants and scholarships. To learn more, read on for answers to the most common FAFSA questions.

General FAFSA questions

FAFSA questions about filling out the forms

Questions about federal financial aid

General FAFSA questions

Let’s start with some general information about the FAFSA.

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a free online application you fill out to qualify for federal financial aid. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to grant state and institutional financial aid.

You submit the FAFSA online on the Federal Student Aid website or mobile app. You’ll need to create an FSA ID to access and sign the FAFSA. If you’re a dependent student, your parents will need their own FSA IDs, too.

What does the FAFSA have to do with financial aid?

After you submit the FAFSA, the government will look at your information and use it to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC, soon to be renamed Student Aid Index (SAI), is how much you and your family are expected to pay for your education.

Once your EFC is determined, it’s up to your college to put together your financial aid package. Your college’s financial aid office determines need-based aid by subtracting your EFC from its total cost of attendance.

Need-based aid could be in the form of federal grants, Direct subsidized loans or work-study opportunities. Note that colleges don’t necessarily meet your full financial need.

You can also get non-need based aid, depending on how much other aid you’ve already received based on the FAFSA. Loans that are non-need based aid include Direct Unsubsidized Loans and federal PLUS loans.

Am I eligible for federal financial aid?

To be eligible for federal financial aid, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or eligible noncitizen
  • Have or be on track for your high school diploma
  • Be accepted or enrolled at a Title IV school
  • Be registered with Selective Service, if you’re a male student
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or grad school. If your GPA falls too low, you’ll lose eligibility for FAFSA loans and financial aid

When do I apply for the FAFSA?

The FAFSA application typically opens on Oct. 1 and closes more than a year and a half later on June 30. For the 2021-2022 school year, for example, you can apply for the FAFSA between Oct. 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022.

Some colleges and states, however, set earlier deadlines for financial aid. Check with your college to see if it sets its own FAFSA deadline. Since some financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s a good idea to submit the FAFSA as close to Oct. 1 as possible.

Plus, many regular decision colleges want to hear your attendance decision by May 1. By filling out the FAFSA early, you’ll be able to compare financial aid packages from multiple colleges. Then, you’ll be able to better decide on a school.

What should I do if I miss the FAFSA deadline?

If you miss your college’s FAFSA deadline, contact the financial aid office. Some states and colleges award aid to latecomers.

As for the federal FAFSA, you’ll have access to it until the end of the school year. If you don’t apply for that school year, fill out the FAFSA for the following year instead.

What is the Student Aid Report (SAR)?

The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a document you’ll receive after filling out the FAFSA. It sums up all your answers on the FAFSA application. Look over the SAR to confirm all your information is correct, and notify the FSA if there are any errors. If everything looks good, simply keep the SAR for your personal records.

FAFSA questions about filling out the forms

Up next on the FAFSA FAQ are questions about filling out the application itself. Read on to learn what information you need to apply for financial aid.

What information do I need to apply for the FAFSA?

The FAFSA asks for personal and financial information. You’ll fill out your contact details, as well as your Social Security number or resident ID. You’ll also indicate up to 10 colleges to receive your FAFSA information.

You or your parents will also provide information from the prior year’s tax return. Beyond gross income, the form asks for your bank account balance, investments and recurring expenses.

Can I use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import tax information?

Yes, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is available for the 2021-2022 FAFSA. You can use it to import your data directly from the IRS website into the FAFSA.

For a preview of the application, check out this PDF on the 2021-2022 FAFSA.

Do I need to submit the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you will need to submit the FAFSA every year to remain eligible for federal student aid. After filling it out the first time, you can submit a renewal FAFSA in subsequent years. The website will automatically fill in most of your information from the previous year.

You just need to double-check that everything is still correct. You can also start from the beginning if you need to make significant changes.

Can I edit the FAFSA after I submit it?

Yes, you can edit the FAFSA after you submit. In fact, you’re required to do so if there’s a change in your dependency status, in the number of your family members or in the number of people in your household who are in college.

You can also fix mistakes you made when filling out the form. To make corrections to the FAFSA, log in to your account and click on “Make FAFSA Corrections.” Enter your FSA ID, make any updates and then hit submit.

You can correct any field with the exception of your Social Security number. If you entered an incorrect Social Security number, contact the financial aid office of your college. They might advise you to submit an entirely new FAFSA.

What do I do if my (or my parents’) income changes?

If your family’s income changes dramatically (a parent lost their job, for example), speak with your school’s financial aid office. The college might be able to accommodate your new circumstances. However, additional aid isn’t guaranteed.

The government determines your EFC based on the information that was accurate at the time. If that information is no longer accurate, you’ll need to discuss the changes with your school.

Should I file for the FAFSA even if I don’t think I’ll qualify for financial aid?

Yes. Don’t neglect to fill out the FAFSA because you think you won’t qualify. There’s no income cutoff for financial aid. Plus, some schools rely on the FAFSA to award scholarships.

Filling it out will also protect you in the event your financial circumstances change. If a parent loses their income, for example, you can speak with your college’s financial aid office about readjusting your financial aid package. But you won’t qualify for federal aid if you never filled out the FAFSA in the first place.

Some common FAFSA myths lead students to believe they’re not eligible for financial aid. Don’t let these misconceptions make you miss out on grants or scholarships.

Questions about federal financial aid

Finally, no list of common FAFSA questions would be complete without explaining how federal financial aid works. Here’s how the FAFSA leads to loans and other types of aid.

What are the different types of financial aid?

Financial aid packages are made up of a mix of grants, scholarships, student loans and work-study options. Grants and scholarships, in most cases, you don’t have to pay back this type of financial aid. You will have to pay back student loans — with interest.

The federal work-study program is only available to students with a certain amount of financial need. It allows you to work part time on campus and earn money each semester. If you’re interested in being considered for work-study, make sure to indicate that on the FAFSA.

How much financial aid will I get?

The amount of financial aid you’ll receive largely depends on the college or graduate school. Some colleges even meet full financial need for all accepted students.

Other colleges might not meet your full financial need. In that case, you will need to find other sources of funding, such as private student loans, if you still wish to attend that school.

Remember that financial aid includes federal student loans — up to $31,000 for dependent undergraduates and up to $138,500 for graduate students. So even if your financial aid award meets your full financial need, you might take on significant debt to pay for school.

To estimate your financial aid package, check out the FAFSA4caster tool. This tool gives you a sense of how much it will cost to attend each school on your list. It can’t predict exactly how much aid you’ll get from each school, but it will give you a rough estimate of the total cost.

When do I get my financial aid package?

College financial aid offices determine your financial aid award. Many regular decision colleges send out admissions decisions in March or April of your senior year in high school. Financial aid packages often come at the same time or shortly after.

Some rolling-decision schools send out decisions and financial aid packages later in the spring or summer. But you should be able to view and compare financial aid packages before it’s time to pick a college.

Don’t forget about institutional aid, scholarships

In addition to finding answers to your FAFSA questions, you should also apply for institutional aid and independent scholarships.

Some colleges, for example, require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. The College Board administers the CSS Profile. A good number of colleges use it to award nonfederal student aid.

Plus, you can apply for scholarships from local and national organizations. By covering all your bases, you’ll get the largest amount of financial aid for college possible. To get started, check out our listing of the best scholarship search tools around the web.

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Here are our top student loan lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
2.49% – 13.85%1Undergraduate

Visit College Ave

2.55% – 11.44%2Undergraduate

Visit Earnest

3.25% – 13.59%3Undergraduate

Visit SallieMae

0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

Visit Edly

3.25% – 9.69%6Undergraduate



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* 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 Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community 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. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. 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 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

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

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the 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 are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical 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.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

    Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.58%-11.72% (6.58% – 11.62% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.82% APR). 

    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 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.

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