There are two simplified versions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):
- Simplified Needs Test. This version disregards all asset information, including student assets and parent assets (if applicable).
- Auto-Zero EFC. This version sets the applicant’s expected family contribution (EFC) automatically to zero.
Eligibility for Simplified Versions of the FAFSA
A dependent student qualifies for these simplified versions of the FAFSA if:
- The student’s parents satisfy income criteria. The parents’ adjusted gross income (AGI) must be less than $50,000 to qualify for the simplified needs test and less than or equal to $24,000 to qualify for auto-zero EFC. If the parents are not tax filers, income earned from work is substituted for AGI.
- The student’s parents filed or were eligible to file an IRS Form 1040A or 1040EZ, filed an IRS Form 1040 but were not required to do so, or were not required to file an income tax return, or
- The student’s parent is a dislocated worker, or
- Anyone counted in household size on the FAFSA received certain ^&*means-tested*&^ federal benefits during either of the two previous calendar years. These benefits include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Free and Reduced Price School Lunch, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Similar criteria apply to independent students and the student’s spouse (if any) for determining eligibility for the simplified needs test and auto-zero EFC, with one exception: Independent students without dependents other than a spouse are not eligible for auto-zero EFC.
Dependent Student Eligibility Depends on Just the Parent’s Income
Note that a dependent student’s eligibility for the simplified needs test and auto-zero EFC depends only on the parent’s income, not the student’s income. It doesn’t matter how much money the student earns or the net value of assets the student owns; if the parent’s income falls below the income thresholds and the parent satisfies the type of federal income tax return test (or the parent is a dislocated worker or a household member received certain means-tested federal benefits), the student will qualify for one of the simplified versions of the FAFSA. This is in contrast with independent students, where the student’s income does matter.
State Restrictions on Simplified Versions of the FAFSA
Even if the student qualifies for the simplified needs test or auto-zero EFC, the student might not be able to skip all of the asset questions, depending on the student’s state of legal residence. The FAFSA is used to apply not just for federal student aid, but also for financial aid from the student’s state. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia do not allow students who qualify for the simplified needs test or auto-zero EFC to skip the questions. These states are Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The answers to these questions, however, will not affect the student’s eligibility for federal student aid. A student who qualifies for auto-zero EFC will still have a zero EFC for federal student aid purposes even if the student’s state does not allow the student to skip some of the FAFSA questions.