The FAFSA form for the 2023-24 school year opened on October 1 and is available for all students and parents to complete. Filling out the FAFSA is one of the most important steps when you’re applying to college and it’s also crucial to do so each year that you are enrolled. In order to qualify for any federal aid, including the PELL Grant and Federal Stafford and PLUS Loans.
Why You Should Fill out the FAFSA ASAP
Even though most students have likely not finished applying for college, they can still submit the FAFSA. Filling out the FAFSA as soon as possible is important because some types of financial aid are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you delay, you may not receive as much aid.
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is a federal grant only available to students with demonstrated financial need. While the Pell grant is available to all students who qualify, schools receive a limited amount of FSEOG funds. Once that money is gone, it’s gone.
Work-study is another type of limited financial aid for students with demonstrated financial need. Work-study gives eligible students a part-time job, either on campus or with a university-affiliated organization. Because schools only have a select number of work-study positions, students who fill out the FAFSA later may not receive a work-study job.
Also, many schools only provide scholarships to students who complete the FAFSA. Many of these scholarships may also be finite. Students attending school in-state may be eligible for state grants, but some of these are also limited.
Schools and states have their own FAFSA deadlines that you should abide by. If you miss that deadline, then you may not be eligible for as much need-based aid as possible. You can find a complete list of state deadlines here.
The FAFSA form has to be completed every year if you want to receive financial aid. And even if you didn’t receive much aid in previous years, you should still try to complete the FAFSA. Submitting the FAFSA is the only way to get federal student loans, which have lower interest rates, more forgiveness plans and more income-driven repayment options than private student loans.
Another reason to submit the FAFSA early is to have time to correct it in case there are any problems or issues. If you submit the FAFSA early, you should have more time to clear up any mistakes in time for the financial aid deadline.
If you wait too long to submit the FAFSA, you may not have enough time to fix the problems before the deadline. In that case, you could miss out on thousands or even tens of thousands in aid.
If your current financial situation is different than the most recent tax return, you should still file the FAFSA as expected. Once you’ve filled it out, you can contact the school’s financial aid department and show proof that your finances are worse than what they appear on the FAFSA. Doing so can help you qualify for more aid.
How to Get Help with the FAFSA
One of the main reasons that families procrastinate when submitting the FAFSA is that they don’t know how to complete it correctly.
The Federal Student Aid website has a list of frequently asked questions, which you can find here. If you don’t see your question listed, you can visit the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC). They have phone, chat and email support options.
If you’re already enrolled in college, you can contact the school’s financial aid department with any specific questions.
If you're having problems with the form, try using a different web browser or computer if possible. The form may crash during exceptionally busy times so if that happens, wait and try again later. If you’re having problems repeatedly, then contact customer service.
You don't have to start and complete the FAFSA all in one sitting. You are allowed to save and return to the form later.
Before you start working on the FAFSA, take the time to gather all the information and documents you need. These may include:
- Your Social Security Number or your Alien Registration number if you are not a citizen
- Your parent’s Social Security Number, if you are a dependent student
- Your driver’s license number
- Previous tax returns for you and your parents, if you are a dependent student
- A record of all income sources for you and your parents, if you are a dependent student
- A record of assets for you and your parents
Having those items on hand will make it easier to complete the FAFSA. If you’re having trouble finding old tax returns, visit the official IRS website, where they keep a record of previous tax returns. An employer should have records of recent paystubs and W2 forms.
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