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FAFSA on the Web

This web site explains how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It explains the purpose of the FAFSA questions. This site also contains a section that provides answers to several frequently asked questions (FAQs). If you have additional questions about federal student aid or how to complete an electronic or paper application after you review this site, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or contact your financial aid administrator (FAA). You can also go to the federal student aid web site at www.studentaid.ed.gov.

You can complete a FAFSA in the following ways:

In some cases, you might be able to apply directly through your school. You should check with the financial aid administrator at the school you are interested in attending to see if the school will assist you with your application. If you are using either the FAFSA online version or the paper version, you can use the instructions on this website as a guide to help you complete the application process. Throughout this document, the term "FAFSA" refers to both the online and paper version unless otherwise specified.

Using a PIN to Sign Your Application

If you apply electronically on FAFSA on the Web or Renewal FAFSA on the Web, you can use a PIN to sign your application. If you are a dependent student (your dependency status is determined through a series of questions), one of your parents also can use a PIN to sign the application. If you (and your parent, if applicable) do not already have a PIN, you should obtain one before you complete your electronic application. You can obtain a PIN before you begin the application process by applying at www.pin.ed.gov. If you give us your e-mail address, we will e-mail you with a link to a web page where you can obtain your PIN after you've applied for it.

FAFSA on the Web applicants don't need to have a PIN to apply. Instead, they can use a signature page; however, using a PIN will result in a faster processing turnaround. If you apply without a PIN, but provide your e-mail address on your FAFSA on the Web application, you will receive an e-mail with a link to a web page where you can obtain your PIN. If you do not provide your e-mail address, you will receive your PIN by mail.

Paper FAFSA filers may provide their e-mail addresses for the current academic year by completing the appropriate question on the FAFSA.

If You Applied Previously

If you applied for aid last year, you might not have to complete an entire FAFSA this year. Instead, you might be able to use a Renewal FAFSA, which is available both on the web at www.fafsa.ed.gov and on paper. The Renewal FAFSA is pre-filled with previous year's data. The applicant will have to simply change or add information as needed. Certain renewal applicants will automatically receive PINs, including:

  • Graduate students and fifth-year undergraduates
  • Students who filed on FAFSA on the Web or Corrections on the Web previously
  • Students whose schools request that PINs be sent instead of paper Renewal FAFSAs. Students who meet the above three requirements and who provide a valid e-mail address will receive an e-mail that will provide a link to their PIN. If they did not provide an e-mail address or the address they provided was invalid, they will receive a PIN mailer. A PIN mailer is a paper document that is mailed to the student's permanent mailing address. It contains the student's PIN, which can be used to access his or her Renewal Application via Renewal FAFSA on the Web.

You also can obtain more detailed information on how to use the PIN from http://www.pin.ed.gov.

Why Complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)?

The Department of Education uses the information provided on your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for aid from the federal student financial assistance programs described below. Many states and schools also use the FAFSA data to award aid from their programs. Some states and schools may require you to fill out additional forms.

Completing a FAFSA is free. There are no fees to process the FAFSA, whether you file electronically or on paper.

Federal Student Aid Programs

Your financial aid "package" - the aid your school awards you - is likely to include funds from the federal student aid programs. Note that not all schools participate in all of the federal student aid programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education. These programs, described below, are administered by the U.S. Department of Education and provide over $67 billion a year to help millions of students and their families pay for postsecondary education: Federal Pell Grants are available to undergraduate students only (with one minor exception for a few teacher certification students). Grants do not have to be repaid.

  • Direct Stafford Loans and FFEL Stafford Loans: Direct Stafford Loans and FFEL Stafford Loans are student loans that must be repaid and are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. If your school participates in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program, the federal government provides the funds for your Direct Stafford Loan through your school. If your school participates in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, a private lender provides the funds for your FFEL Stafford Loan. First-year undergraduates are eligible for loans up to $5,500. Amounts increase for subsequent years of study, with higher amounts for graduate students. The interest rate for unsubsidized Stafford Loans disbursed after July 1, 2006 is fixed at 6.8%. The interest rate for Subsidized Stafford Loans is 6.8% for 2012-2013. Interest rates for loans disbursed between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 2006, are variable but do not exceed 8.25 percent. Interest rates for those loans are determined on July 1st of each year. If you qualify (based on need) for a subsidized Stafford Loan, the government will pay the interest on your loan until your repayment is scheduled to begin and during any deferment periods. You are responsible for paying all of the interest that accrues on an unsubsidized Stafford Loan.
  • FFEL PLUS Loans and Direct PLUS Loans: FFEL PLUS Loans and Direct PLUS Loans are unsubsidized loans made to parents. FFEL PLUS Loans are made through private lenders; Direct PLUS Loan funds are provided by the federal government through the school. If you are an independent student or a dependent student whose parents cannot get a PLUS Loan, you are eligible to borrow additional Stafford Loan funds. For funds disbursed on or after July 1, 2006, the PLUS Loan interest rate is fixed (at 7.9 for Direct PLUS Loans and 8.5 percent for FFEL PLUS Loans). Interest rates for loans disbursed between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 2006, are variable but do not exceed 9 percent, and are determined on July 1st of every year. Graduate and professional degree students are now eligible to borrow under the PLUS Loan Program up to their cost of attendance minus other estimated financial assistance in both the FFEL and Direct Loan Program. The terms and conditions applicable to Parent PLUS Loans also apply to Graduate/Professional PLUS loans. These requirements include a determination that the applicant does not have an adverse credit history, repayment beginning on the date of the last disbursement of the loan, and a fixed interest rate of 8.5 percent in the FFEL program and 7.9 percent in the Direct Loan program.
  • Campus-Based Programs: Campus-based programs are administered by participating schools. There are three of these programs: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work Study and Federal Perkins Loans. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are grants available for undergraduates only; awards range from $100 to $4,000 ($4,400 in certain circumstances for students studying abroad). Federal Work-Study provides jobs to undergraduate and graduate students, allowing them to earn money to pay education expenses. Federal Perkins Loans are low-interest (5 percent) loans that must be repaid; the maximum annual loan amount is $4,000 for undergraduate students and $6,000 for graduate students.

Am I Eligible for Student Aid from These Programs?

In general to receive aid from federal student aid programs, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the U.S.
  • Have a high school diploma, General Education Development (GED) certificate, pass an approved "ability to benefit" test, or have completed a high school education in a homeschool setting that is treated as a home school or private school under state law.
  • Enroll in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
  • Be registered with the Selective Service if required (in general, if you are a male over the age of 18).

Sources of Information

For information on any federal student financial aid programs, you may call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-800-730-8913 (TTY) - both toll-free.

The FSAIC provides the following services:

  • Helping you complete FAFSA on the Web or Corrections on the Web
  • Helping you complete the paper FAFSA
  • Answering questions about the PIN
  • Checking the processing status of the FAFSA
  • Mailing a duplicate SAR
  • Changing your paper address and e-mail address
  • Changing the schools you listed on your application
  • Explaining the SAR and how to make corrections
  • Checking on whether a school participates in federal student aid programs
  • Explaining who is eligible for federal student aid
  • Explaining how federal student aid is awarded and paid
  • Explaining the verification process
  • Sending requested publications

The FSAIC is not able to do the following:

  • Make policy
  • Expedite the federal student aid application process
  • Discuss your federal student aid file with an unauthorized person
  • Influence an individual school's financial aid policies

You may also access the Department's Web site, which provides general information about the Department and access to many of its publications. The main site address for information about the federal student aid programs is www.studentaid.ed.gov

The Student Guide explains the federal student financial assistance programs in detail and can be found at www.studentaid.ed.gov/guide

Repaying Your Student Loans provides specific information to borrowers about their rights and responsibilities in managing their student loan repayment and can be found at www.studentaid.ed.gov/repayingpub

The Student Aid Audio Guide is an audio recording available on compact disc for visually impaired or blind students. It highlights the information contained in both the Student Guide and Funding Your Education in a simulated conversation between a counselor at the FSAIC and a student. You can also find it at www.studentaid.ed.gov/audioguide

The EFC Formula Worksheets are a set of forms that explain the need analysis calculation that produces the EFC.

You can obtain a copy of any of these publications at no charge from:

Federal Student Aid Information Center
P.O. Box 84
Washington, DC 20044

1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)

FAQ's

Who can I call for help answering FAFSA questions?

You can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) with questions about the electronic or paper application process or about federal student financial aid in general.

Why does the Department of Education ask for income information from the year before I go to school?

Studies have consistently shown that verifiable income tax information from the base year (2011 for the 2012-13 award year) is more accurate than projected (2012) information when estimating how much the family will be able to contribute during the coming school year.

What is the deadline for applying for federal financial aid for the fall semester?

Federal financial aid awards are tied to the federal government’s fiscal year, which runs from July 1st through June 30th of each year. This means that if you plan to start college in the fall semester of 2012, you must complete a current year FAFSA no later than June 30, 2012.

If you wait until July, your application will not be accepted. Instead, you will have to submit an application for the next academic year, and you will not be considered for federal student financial aid for the fall semester. The earliest you could hope to receive federal grants or loans, depending on your eligibility, would be January of the next year.

Keep in mind that it is not a good idea to wait until the last possible moment to submit your FAFSA. When you need to find money for college, you need to fill out your FAFSA as early as possible. Many schools have priority deadlines for some financial assistance programs, and if you wait until the last minute, discretionary funds are likely to have already been awarded to other candidates.

What should I (the student) do if my family has special circumstances that aren't mentioned in the application?

Talk to your financial aid administrator (FAA). If your family's circumstances have changed from the base year due to loss of employment, loss of benefits, death, or divorce, the FAA may decide to adjust data elements used to calculate your EFC. The adjustment might increase your eligibility for student aid.

I'm not sure if I want to take out a student loan. What should I enter for the question asking if I am interested in student loans?

Some schools use this information to put together a financial aid package for you. Answering "Yes" does not obligate you to take out a loan. It usually just means that the school will offer you a loan or loans as part of your aid package. You can change your mind and not accept the loans later.

If I live with an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, should that relative's income be reported instead of parental information?

Only if the relative is your adoptive parent. Dependent students can be considered dependent only on their parent(s) and may report only parental information on the FAFSA. You must report (in Worksheet B) any cash support given by relatives, but not in-kind support (such as food and housing) from relatives.

What if I live with a girlfriend or boyfriend who pays the rent?

You should not report any information for a friend or roommate unless the two of you are actually married or are considered to have a common-law marriage under state law. You must report any cash support given by the friend as untaxed income but should not report in-kind support (such as food). You would have to report as income the rent the roommate paid if your name were on the lease and if the roommate were paying the rent on your behalf.

When is student aid considered income?

Generally, grants and scholarships that do not exceed tuition and fees, books, and required supplies are not considered to be taxed or untaxed income. If you have an ROTC scholarship, a private scholarship, or any other kind of grant or scholarship, that grant or scholarship will be considered as an available resource by the financial aid office when packaging aid but will not be reported as income on the application.

You should report grants and scholarships you reported on your tax return. You should then report these items as exclusions from income on Worksheet C.

What's the difference between cash support and in-kind support?

Cash support is support given either in the form of money or money that is paid on your (the student's) behalf. You must report cash support as untaxed income. Thus, if a friend or relative gives you grocery money, it must be reported as untaxed income on Worksheet B. If the friend or relative pays your electric bill or part of your rent, you must also report those payments.

Examples of in-kind support are free food or housing that a family receives, usually in exchange for work or services. You usually don't report such support.

However, the application does require you to report the value of housing a family receives as compensation for a job on Worksheet B. The most common example is free housing or a housing allowance provided to military personnel or clergy, which is required to be reported on Worksheet B.

I am now a U.S. citizen but have an Alien Registration Number (A-Number). How do I indicate this on the application?

Indicate that you are a U.S. citizen - do not provide an A-Number.

I'm going to get married this summer. How do I answer the question that asks if I am married?

Answer "Yes" if you are married on the day you sign the FAFSA. Otherwise, answer "No." The FAFSA is a snapshot of your status the day it is signed; it does not forecast changes such as marriage.

Why must I report the highest school level my parents completed?

Some states and institutions make funds available depending on their parents' educational history (ex. additional support for students who are first-generation college students). This information also serves statistical purposes. If you don't know the answer, select "Other/unknown."

If I'm an emancipated minor, am I now independent?

The status of emancipated minor is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for financial aid purposes; such a student must meet one of the other listed criteria to be independent.

If I am in the National Guard or am an active duty military member, am I considered a veteran for purposes of filling out the FAFSA?

If you were a member of the National Guard or were a Reservist called to active duty for purposes other than training and were released under a condition other than dishonorable, you are considered a veteran for FAFSA purposes.

If you are on active military duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, but will be a veteran by the end of the filing period for the FAFSA you are completing, you are considered a veteran for FAFSA purposes. If your active duty will continue past the June 30th FAFSA deadline, however, you are not considered a veteran for FAFSA purposes.

I'll be filing a tax return this year but I probably won't get around to it until April. How should I answer the financial questions? Should I wait to fill out this form until after I've filed my tax return?

Ideally, you should complete a FAFSA after you've done your tax return, but don't wait until April. Many colleges award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, you may not be eligible for state aid if you wait until April to submit your FAFSA. If you haven't submitted your tax return, you should calculate your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and taxes paid using the instructions for IRS Form 1040. You can get the instructions and the form at a public library or download them in Portable Document Format (PDF) from www.irs.gov/formspubs/index.html

Once you file your tax returns, you must make corrections income or asset data that may have changed from what you reported on your application.

You might have to provide your college with a copy of your completed tax return (assuming you're required to file one) before you receive federal student aid for college.

If my parents are divorced, whose information do I need?

The parent you lived with the most during the 12 months preceding the date you completed the FAFSA. It does not make a difference which parent claims you as a dependent for tax purposes. If you did not live with either parent or lived equally with each parent, the parental information must be provided for the parent from whom you received the most financial support or the parent from whom you received the most support the last time support was given.

I am entering financial information for my mother and stepfather on the FAFSA. Should I give my father's Social Security Number (SSN) and last name, or my stepfather's?

You should provide the SSN and last name of the same person or people for whom you are reporting financial information. In this case, provide the SSNs and names of your mother and stepfather.

What should you do if the parent you live with is remarried and the stepparent refuses to supply information?

If you are a dependent student and your parent is remarried, the stepparent's information must be included or you will not be considered for federal student financial aid.

How does a family decide whom should be counted in the household size?

Anyone in the immediate family who receives more than 50% support from a dependent student's parents or an independent student and spouse may be counted in the household size even if that person does not reside in the house. For example, a sibling who is over 24 but still receives the majority of his/her support from the parents can be included. Siblings who are dependent (as defined by the FAFSA) as of the date you apply for financial aid are also included, regardless of whether they receive more than 50% of their support from the parents. Any other person who resides in the household and receives more than 50% support from the parents may also be counted, as long as they will continue to reside with your parents and the support is expected to continue through the FAFSA filing period. An unborn child who will be born during the award year may also be counted in the household size.

Household size and tax exemptions are not necessarily the same. Exemptions look at the previous year or tax year and household size refers to the school year for which the student is applying for aid.

My parents separated four months ago. I live with my mother. My parents filed a joint tax return and claimed me as an exemption. Do I report both their incomes, or just my mother's?

Report only your mother's income and asset information because you lived with her the most during the past 12 months. Use a W-2 Form or other record(s) to determine her share of the income reported and taxes paid on the tax return.

If I (the student) am separated but filed a joint tax return, how is the information reported?

You should give only your portion of the exemptions, income, and taxes paid.

Who qualifies to be counted in the number in college?

Any person (other than your parents) who is counted in the household and will be attending any term of the academic year at least half time. The person must be working toward a degree or certificate leading to a recognized education credential at a postsecondary school eligible to participate in the federal student aid programs. You (the student) need not be enrolled half time to be counted in the number in college.

When does my school have to receive the results from my application?

Your school must have your information by your last day of enrollment in the academic year for which you are filing a FAFSA, or by August 31 of that year, whichever is earlier. If your school has not received your application information electronically, you must submit your paper SAR to the school by the deadline. Once the school receives your information, it will use your EFC to determine the amount of your federal grant, loan, or work-study award, if you are eligible. The FAA will send you a letter explaining the aid the school is offering.

What if I don't get a SAR Information Acknowledgement or SAR, or I need another copy of that form?

If you do not receive your SAR Information Acknowledgement within two weeks or SAR within four weeks after submitting your application, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). If you have a touch-tone phone, you can use the automated system to find out whether your application has been processed or to request duplicate copies of your report. You will need to provide your Social Security Number and the first two letters of your last name. You can also check the status of your FAFSA and print a copy of your SAR at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

What if I think somebody is misusing federal student aid funds?

If you have reason to suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving federal student aid funds, you should call the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General's toll-free hotline at:

1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733)

The Privacy Act

The Department of Education (the Department) uses the information that you provide on the FAFSA to determine if you are eligible to receive federal student financial aid and the amount that you are eligible to receive. Section 483 and 484 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, gives the Department the authority to ask you and your parents these questions and to collect the Social Security Numbers of you and your parents.

State and institutional student financial aid programs may also use the information provided on your FAFSA to determine if you are eligible to receive state and institutional aid and the need that you have for such aid. Therefore, we will disclose the information provided on your FAFSA to each institution listed in question 104, the state agency in your state of legal residence, and the state agencies in the states for the schools listed in question 104.

If you are applying solely for federal aid, you must answer all of the following questions that apply to you: 1-9, 14-16, 18, 21-23, 26-28, 33-37, 39-61, 63-70, 72, 75-87, 89-103, 105-106.

Without your consent, the U.S. Department of Education may disclose your information to third parties under a published "routine use." Under the published routine uses, we may disclose the information to private firms that assist the U.S. Department of Education in administering the federal student financial aid programs. However, private firms that contract with the U.S. Department of Education must maintain the safeguards required under the Privacy Act.

The Department may also send your information to other federal agencies through computer matching programs to verify your eligibility for federal student financial aid, to perform debt collection under the federal loan programs, and to minimize and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal student aid programs. Such computer matching programs include matching programs with the Internal Revenue Service, Selective Service System, Social Security Administration, Department of Veteran Affairs, and Department of Homeland Security. The Department also exchanges information with the Department of Justice to enforce Section 5301 of the Anti Drug Abuse Act.

In addition, your name, address, Social Security Number, date of birth, expected family contribution, dependency status, and state of legal residence will be sent to the state agency in your state of legal residence. This disclosure will allow you to apply for state student financial aid without necessarily having to submit an additional application form. Your application information will also be sent to the school(s) listed in question 104, or its representative, and to the state agencies in the states of the school(s) listed in question 104.

Lastly, we may send your information to members of Congress if you ask them to help with federal student aid questions and to your parents or your spouse if they provided information on your form.

If the federal government, the U.S. Department of Education, or an employee of the U.S. Department of Education is involved in litigation, the Department may send information to the Department of Justice, or a court or adjudicative body, if the disclosure is related to financial aid and certain conditions are met. In addition, the Department may send your information to a foreign, federal, state, or local enforcement agency if the information submitted indicates a violation or potential violation of law, for which that agency has jurisdiction for investigation or prosecution. Finally, the Department may send your information to a consumer reporting agency if a claim is involved that is determined to be valid and overdue. This information includes identifiers from the record; the amount, status and history of the claim and the program under which the claim arose.

The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995

The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 says that no one is required to respond to a collection of information unless it displays a valid OMB control number, which for the FAFSA is 1845-0001. The time required to complete the paper FAFSA is estimated to be one hour, including time to review instructions, search data resources, gather the data needed, and complete and review the information collection. If you have comments about this estimate or suggestions for improving the form, please write to:

U.S. Department of Education
Washington, DC 20202-4651

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