FAFSA is an acronym. It stands for "Free Application for Federal Student Aid". Please take note that the first word in the acronym is "Free". You do not need to pay to fill out the FAFSA but there are certainly websites out there that will charge you for their assistance. If you are asked for a credit card at any point in the process, you are at one of these sites. If you do not want to pay to complete the FAFSA, be sure to apply at https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa. The FAFSA must be completed by you and your family each year if you wish to be considered for need-based grants from the college or university you are or will be attending as well as subsidized student loans.
The FAFSA will use the information you submit to determine your EFC, or “Expected Family Contribution”. This amount is basically what you and your family are expected to contribute based on the FAFSA’s assessment of your income, assets, expenses and so on. Until you have completed the FAFSA, you won’t know whether or how much federal financial aid you qualify for. This will also determine your eligibility for federal student loans, which offer much better terms than do private student loans.
Once you submit your completed FAFSA to a university, they will be able to determine which of their need-based scholarships or grants they may offer to you in your Financial Aid Letter, which will break down all costs and expenses as well as your EFC and eligibility for need-based aid and Federal Work-Study (FWS).
The FAFSA will also determine how much in subsidized or “federal” student loans you will be eligible to receive before you resort to applying for private loans. While all loans must be repaid, the terms of the subsidized loans will be more favorable. There are a few different types of subsidized loans you should take some time to familiarize yourself with. You can learn more about the different types of loans at https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans.
FWS, or Federal Work-Study is another way to help pay for your education and will also require you to qualify based on demonstrated need. The FAFSA is the single program that the federal government, along with your school can determine whether you are qualified for this and all aforementioned grants and subsidized loans. You can learn more about FWS at https://www2.ed.gov/programs/fws/index.html
The bottom line is that if you think you might qualify for any of the benefits offered to you by completing the FAFSA, do it. It might be worth the time and effort to find out.