FAFSA FAQ: 15 Answers to Your Most Burning FAFSA Questions

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

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.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

FAFSA FAQ
Logo

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

Although the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) looks confusing at first, it’s not difficult to navigate once you master the basics about accessing financial aid.

Navigate the most popular FAFSA questions here, or scroll down for the full FAFSA FAQ guide.

General FAFSA FAQ

What is the FAFSA?
What does the FAFSA have to do with financial aid?
Am I eligible for federal financial aid?
When do I apply for the FAFSA?
What should I do if I miss the FAFSA deadline?
What is the Student Aid Report (SAR)?

FAFSA questions about filling out the forms

What information do I need to apply for the FAFSA?
Can I use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import tax information?
Do I need to submit the FAFSA every year?
Can I edit the FAFSA after I submit it?
What do I do if my (or my parents’) income changes?
Should I file for the FAFSA even if I don’t think I’ll qualify for financial aid?

What to know about federal financial aid

What are the different types of financial aid?
How much financial aid will I get?
When do I get my financial aid package?

General FAFSA FAQ

What is the FAFSA?

Before delving into any other FAFSA FAQ, you need to know what the FAFSA is. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid 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. You’ll need to create an FSA ID, as well as your parents if you’re a dependent student. The application only takes 20-30 minutes to fill out and submit.

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 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.

This aid could be in the form of federal grants, direct subsidized loans or work-study opportunities. That being said, colleges may not necessarily meet your full financial need.

Some schools also award 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.
  • 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 2019-2020 school year, for example, you can apply for the FAFSA between Oct. 1, 2018 and June 30, 2020.

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 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 is available for the 2019-2020 FAFSA. A couple years ago, the IRS removed the tool for maintenance. It’s now back and ready to import your data directly from the IRS website into the FAFSA.

For a preview of the application, check out this PDF on the 2019-2020 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.

What to know about federal financial aid

Finally, no FAFSA FAQ 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 package. 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 and 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. College Board administers the CSS Profile. Almost 400 colleges use it to award non-federal 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.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
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.

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)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 4/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


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 rates shown 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 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 1.00% as of April 1, 2020. 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 click here for more information about interest rates.
  5. Get a variable interest rate from 2.99% APR to 6.24% APR (3-Month LIBOR + 1.99% to 3-Month LIBOR + 5.24%) for either a 10-year or 20-year repayment term. Or lock in a fixed interest rate from 3.74% APR to 6.49% APR for a 10-year repayment term or from 3.74% APR to 6.49% 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 1.00% as of April 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. The lowest listed APRs include a 0.25% rate reduction for automatic payments. Visit discover.com/student-loans/consolidation for more information, including up-to-date interest rates and APRs.
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.

4 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.

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. Variable rate loans are based on a margin between 1.90% and 13.50% plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 1.629%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 3.14% and 11.88%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 4.09% and 13.03% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval. Rates are effective as of 03/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. 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.)
  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.
  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.


5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-9.05% (2.72%-9.05% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.79%-9.30% (3.79%-9.30% 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 April 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.92%. 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.

2.75% – 10.65%*,1Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

2.69%
10.97%
2
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

1.80%
10.37%
3
Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

5.20% – 14.18%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Ascent

4.14% – 7.92%6Undergraduate and Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

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.

Published in Student Loans