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Headed to school this fall and looking at options to help cover the cost of attendance? The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the best place to start. This is the gatekeeper to federal scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and federal loan packages. You don’t even have to know what school you will be attending to get a jumpstart on your aid package.
The FAFSA may seem confusing to those who haven’t filed before, it isn’t that tricky if you have all the right documents. In total, it takes less time than filing your taxes.
The 2019-2020 FAFSA form has been available since October 1st, 2018, and the Department of Education recommends filling it out as soon as possible—so now is the time to get started!
Why Should I Fill Out the 2019-2020 FAFSA?
The real question is, why wouldn’t you fill out the FAFSA? All students who will be attending college next year, whether it is your first year or you will be returning, should file the 2019-2020 FAFSA this fall.
Don’t think you will receive any need-based aid? First, what is the harm in finding out—best case scenario you make a dent in your cost of attendance. Second, you will need to file the FAFSA to apply for federal student loans. Finally, if you live in Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois, you are required to apply for financial aid.
What You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA
Finishing your FAFSA will only take 30 minutes, but it might take a minute longer to gather all the information you need to complete it. We recommend making a FAFSA folder on your computer or in your house to streamline this process in the future.
According to the Department of Education, you will need the following information to file your 2019-2020 FAFSA:
- FSA ID
- Social Security Number (or Alien Registration Number if you are not a US citizen)
- Driver’s License number (if you have one)
- Tax Return from 2017, W-2s, and other records of money earned
- Bank statements, records of investments, and records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- The school(s) you are interested in attending or will be attending if you are a returning student
If you are a dependent student, you will need all this information for yourself, as well as your parents. If you are married, you will need this information from your spouse as well.
What is my FSA ID?
Your FSA ID is the username and password that you use to log in to the US Department of Education website to manage your FAFSA application. Anyone who plans to be a part of a FAFSA application will have to create a FSA ID (including parents and spouses).
It is important to keep in mind that you can not create a FSA ID for anyone but yourself. This would be like forging someone else’s signature on a legal document and isn’t allowed. It can also create confusion when finalizing the FAFSA application and lead to delays.
Why does the 2019-2020 FAFSA use my 2017 Tax Records?
Beginning with the 2017-2018 FAFSA form, applicants are now required to report income from an earlier tax form. In prior years you would have applied with tax records from the year just prior (ex: 2015 tax forms for your 2016-2017 FAFSA).
This change was made because not every family has their tax information totally ironed out for the year directly following, and it reduces the need for families to continue making changes to their FAFSA forms after filing if their tax information changes. Most importantly, it enables students to submit their FAFSA as early as October of the year before attending school.
If your 2017 financial situation no longer reflects your current situation, you should reach out to the financial aid office of the school that you plan to attend after submitting your FAFSA. Remember, you can also appeal for more aid after getting a school’s financial aid package.
Untaxed income and record of assets
Your family’s direct income may not paint the whole picture of your financial situation, so the FAFSA asks for more.
Untaxed income could include child support, interest income, veterans noneducation benefits, etc. For more information, check out this help center post from the Student Aid.
The record of assets section includes information from your family’s savings and checking accounts, as well as investments in the market or real estate (excluding the home you live in).
Listing the schools you are interested in attending in your 2019-2020 FAFSA
Reapplying for the FAFSA and know where you are headed back to this fall? That makes this section very easy.
Not sure where you are headed in the fall? You don’t need to commit before filing your FAFSA, and it actually is better to file your FAFSA before you know. Schools that accept you will use the FAFSA to determine your financial aid package, which could help you decide where you want to go.
When filing the FAFSA online you can list up to 10 schools that you are considering. Even if you aren’t sure about a school, it is best to list it when applying, you can always remove it from the list later.
How Do I File the FAFSA?
You have a couple of options on how to complete and submit your FAFSA:
Just head to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa to create your FSA ID or sign back in.
The myStudentAid app
The 2019-2020 FAFSA is the first time students are able to file through a mobile app.
Not only can you file the FAFSA from the myStudentAid app, but you can also manage your FSA ID, view your previous applications, and your loan information. You will select your role at the start of the application (student, parent, or preparer) and be guided through the application.
Probably the least efficient way to apply, but still an option for those who want the option. You can print this PDF, add your information, and mail it out to wait for a response.
One more thing to note; while the online application allows you to list up to ten schools, you can only list four on the paper application.
The 2019-2020 FAFSA Deadline
The federal window for filing the FAFSA is rather large. The 2019-2020 FAFSA has been available to families since October 1st, 2018, and you have until midnight, Central Time, June 30th, 2020 to complete it.
Your state or school might also have earlier requirements for filing, or give more priority to those who filed by a certain date. It is important to make sure you know when your state’s deadline is and reach out to your school’s financial aid center to mark their deadlines on your calendar.
Even if your state or college doesn’t have an earlier deadline, it is best to file your FAFSA earlier. There is a limited supply of funding from schools, states, and the federal government, and some of these institutions use first-come-first-served when distributing aid. Getting in that line earlier could improve your chances of earning more aid, and paying less of your tuition out of pocket.