If you're a high school student, you've probably heard how important it is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But every year, countless families avoid submitting the FAFSA due to its complexity and difficulty level.
This may disproportionately affect the students who need the FAFSA the most. Research shows that 30% of low-income or first-generation families said that filling out the FAFSA was difficult, compared to just 10% of other families. Many just avoid submitting the FAFSA because it’s too confusing.
That’s where the FAFSA Simplification Act comes in. This piece of legislation was developed to make the FAFSA easier to fill out, so more students will qualify for financial aid. Keep reading to understand how the FAFSA Simplification Act works - and if it will help you.
The FAFSA is the only form that lets you qualify for federal student loans, grants, and work-study. Plus, many schools don’t give out their own scholarships and grants unless students also complete the FAFSA.
You have to complete the FAFSA every year to qualify for financial aid. If you don’t submit the FAFSA, then you take yourself out of the running for most types of financial aid.
The FAFSA Simplification Act will go into effect for the 2024-25 award year. Even though the FAFSA is normally available on October 1 the year before enrollment, it will not be available until December 2023 to account for the new changes.
Instead of using the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula, the new FAFSA will use the Student Aid Index (SAI) to determine how much financial aid you and your family qualify for.
While some experts say this is just a simple case of rebranding, there may be some differences that can let students qualify for more aid.
One of the biggest differences is that the SAI will not count how many siblings are in college when determining financial aid. Previously, the EFC considered how many siblings were already enrolled in college. For example, if you had two siblings already in school, you would qualify for more financial aid than if you did not have any siblings in college.
Unfortunately, this may cause some students to get less financial aid if they currently have one or more siblings in college.
The new SAI formula will expand how many students are eligible for the Pell Grant, which is one of the most popular forms of financial aid. The Pell Grant is only available for students with demonstrated financial need, but the new SAI will allow more students to qualify for the Pell Grant.
For example, multi-parent households that make less than 175% of the federal poverty guidelines and single parents that make less than 225% of the federal poverty guidelines will receive the maximum Pell Grant amount, which is $7,395 for the 2023-24 school year.
Households with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty guidelines will still be eligible for a Pell Grant, though less than the maximum amount.
Most of the information required by the FAFSA relates to you and your family’s income and assets. If you file your taxes, then the FAFSA can link to your IRS account and automatically transfer information from your tax return to the FAFSA.
This makes the FAFSA much easier to fill out. Because of the FAFSA Simplification Act, it will be mandated to automate data from the IRS to the FAFSA.
Up until now, the FAFSA was only available in English and Spanish. Now, it will be available in 11 other popular languages. The Department of Education has not yet released which languages it will include.
The new FAFSA will no longer ask if a male student has registered for Selective Service, also known as the draft. It will also not ask if a student has any drug convictions on their record. Also, the total number of questions has been reduced from 108 to 36.
With the previous version of the FAFSA, the lowest amount that you could have as an EFC was $0. Now, the SAI lets students have a negative amount. This means that they may qualify for more financial aid than the total cost of attendance. Students can use these extra funds to pay for living expenses and other necessary costs.
Also, students who are currently in a state or federal prison may still qualify for federal financial aid. If your school was closed while you were a student or if your school misled you, then your Pell Grant eligibility may be reinstated.
Even if you're worried that the FAFSA Simplification Act will reduce how much you earn in financial aid, you should still complete the form.
Remember, the FAFSA is your only gateway into federal student loans, grants and work study. Plus, many schools won't award you their own scholarships unless you complete the FAFSA. And if you're hoping to get a state-based grant or scholarship, you will likely need to submit the FAFSA as well.
In short, filling out the FAFSA, even if you're concerned about the new iteration, is still important.
Even though the FAFSA Simplification Act is supposed to clarify the FAFSA, some families and students may still struggle with the form. If you’re still having problems, you can visit the Department of Education’s frequently asked questions website.
You can also contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-433-3243. They also have a live chat option.