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Home Fafsa Guide Filing the FAFSA: A Quick and Easy Guide for the 2021-2022 FAFSA

Filing the FAFSA: A Quick and Easy Guide for the 2021-2022 FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the most important financial aid application. It’s used to apply for financial aid from the federal student aid program which is offered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. However, many state governments, and most colleges and universities use the information provided on the FAFSA to also award financial aid from their own programs.

The federal student aid programs offer accessibility to federal grants, federal loans, and federal work-study. All other aid offered through other sources (like your state or school) will vary but may also include grant and loan opportunities.

You don’t need to wait until you decide on which school you will be attending; your information can be sent to multiple schools.

Even if you don’t believe you are eligible for financial aid, you should complete the FAFSA. It’s a myth that all financial aid is need-based.

When Does the FAFSA Need To Be Filed

The FAFSA is not only used by the federal government, but it’s also used by states and schools to help award financial aid. When it comes to filing the FAFSA, there are three deadlines you should know.

  • State Deadline
  • School Deadline
  • Federal Deadline

For more details about FAFSA deadlines, check out our great resource which provides detailed state deadline information.

Which FAFSA Do I Fill Out?

This isn’t always clear. Depending on the time of year, there could be two FAFSA applications to pick from. Make sure you complete the FAFSA for the correct year!

  • The 2021-2022 FAFSA is for student who will be attending college between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. We will be focusing our information on this FAFSA.
  • The 2020-2021 FAFSA is for students who will be attending college between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

Check out our deadlines article for help with determining which FAFSA is right for you. When in doubt, ask your Financial Aid Office.

What Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

There are a few things you want to get together before you get started with the FAFSA application. It’s always best to be prepared. Here is what you should have ready before you jump into the application.

Create FSA ID

You can set up your FSA ID at https://studentaid.gov/fsa-id. You can create an FSA ID ahead of time, you don’t need to wait until you are ready to complete the FAFSA.

No matter which way you decide to file, it’s always wise to create an FSA ID. Think of your FSA ID as a username and password, because that’s what it is. Your FSA ID allows you to file the FAFSA (online or mobile app), and log into view your federal student loan and grant history. You can also use it to electronically sign your FAFSA, and it is your personal legal signature.

It is strongly recommended that everyone create their own FSA ID to avoid issues later. If you forget your FSA ID, or it’s not working, you will have the option to click “Forgot My Username” or “Forgot My Password”. If you need more help getting into your account, you can always call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), for TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing 1-800-730-8913.

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FSA ID Parent

Each person who needs to provide information for a FAFSA will need their own FSA ID—this means, not only students but parents may need their own FSA ID as well. An FSA ID will be associated with the social security number of the account holder.

You will need a social security number, and a mobile phone number and/or email address. If you don’t have a social security number, you will not be able to create an FSA ID. Parents can still provide their child with the necessary information they will need to complete the FAFSA application electronically. Although you won’t be able to electronically sign the document without an FSA ID, you can print the signature page and mail it in.

Documents Needed for FAFSA

  1. Your FSA ID if you are completing your FAFSA online or through the mobile application.
  2. Your 2019 Tax Records for the 2021-2022 FAFSA
  3. Records of Untaxed Income, including, child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits
  4. Records of Your Assets
  5. A List of Schools You Are Considering
  6. Your Driver’s License (if you have one)

FAFSA School Selection

You don’t need to know exactly where you want to go yet, and you can even make changes later. But you should pull together a list of all the schools you are interested in, even if you have yet to apply. The FAFSA gives you an opportunity to easily list 10 colleges at a time on the web or on the mobile app (the paper application will only allow you to list four). Your school list will not be shared with the schools listed.

FAFSA School Selection Order

For federal student aid it doesn’t matter in what order you list your schools. However, for state aid it might. Double check you state requirements and decide the best way to order your school list.

FAFSA Change School

It’s okay if you’re applying to more than 10 college. Pick 10 to list first. Wait for your FAFSA to be processed, it could take a bit of time. The best way to confirm, contact a school you listed and ask them if they received your FAFSA information. Once they have confirmed, log back into your FAFSA application and update your school list.

Financial Aid Help

With everything that you are managing on this college journey, you may not be aware that there are FREE RESOURCES available to provide help and guidance along the way or if you run into problems.

Financial Aid Eligibility

There are some eligibility criteria you need to meet in order to qualify for federal student aid:

  • Complete the FAFSA and agree to use federal student aid for educational purposes.
  • Be a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number (with the exception of student from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau).
  • For males, be registered with Selective Service. You may have the option to register through the FAFSA.
  • Be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment, as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate* program at a college or university that participates in federal student aid.
  • Have a high school diploma, the recognized equivalent of a high school diploma* (including a General Educational Development (GED) certificate), or have completed a high school curriculum in a home school setting that satisfies the state’s requirements for home schooling.
    • Students who first enrolled in an accredited college or career school before July 1, 2012, or are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program, may qualify by satisfying alternate criteria, such as passing an approved ability-to-benefit test or completing six credit hours or equivalent course work toward a degree or certificate.
  • Not be in default on a federal student loan.
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or loan overpayment.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • If you have certain criminal convictions, like a drug conviction that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid, your aid may be limited and/or required to complete steps to regain eligibility.

There are some more program specific requirements for federal student loans and grants.

*Students with intellectual difficulties may still be eligible for federal student aid. You need to be enrolled in a comprehensive transition and postsecondary (CTP) program, meet all basic eligibility requirements, except for the requirement of a high school diploma or GED, and you aren’t required to pursue a degree or certificate.

Note: If you do not meet these criteria, ask your school if they would still like you to complete the FAFSA®.

Federal Student Loan Eligibility

In addition to the basic eligibility requirements, federal student loans require you to be enrolled in your program at least half-time. The Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loan program has loan limits for the total you can borrow each year, and total aggregate (overall) limits.

In addition, there is a time limitation on how long you can receive Direct Subsidized Loans if you are a first-time borrow on or after July 1, 2013. Your eligibility may be limited based on your past borrowing history. If you’ve reached annual or aggregate borrowing limits in the federal program, you may need to consider private student loan options.

Federal Pell Grant Limits

Under the Federal Pell Grant program, you will be limited to the equivalent of six years of Pell Grant funds, or 600% lifetime eligibility. What does this mean? Well, if you are Pell Grant eligible your school will determine your total award amount for the year. That total amount is considered 100% of your eligibility for that year. The actual amount you receive throughout the year will be used to determine your use.

For example, if you are awarded $5,000 for an award year. Your school will give you $2,500 for your fall semester, and $2,500 for your spring semester. You attend during the fall and receive your $2,500 award. You are then unable to attend spring semester, and do not receive financial aid. You would have only used 50% of your Pell lifetime eligibility.

Is FAFSA Required for College Applications

You are not required to complete the FAFSA to apply to colleges and universities. You will only complete the FAFSA if you need financial aid to help you pay for school, and your school participates in federal student aid. You can always double-check your school’s policies to determine what is expected of you.

Financial Aid Eligibility Graduate School

Graduate students are eligible to receive federal student aid. Graduate students will not be eligible for need-based federal aid (like the Federal Pell Grant, or Direct Subsidized Loan), but will be eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans. States and schools may also offer additional aid opportunities to graduate students.

Filling Out the FAFSA – Step-by-Step

Ready to jump in? You will get through it, promise. Here are some words of advice, take your time and read each question carefully.

Each question on the electronic versions of the FAFSA will have a ‘?’ mark. If you click the ‘?’ you will get additional information to help you answer the question. The paper application will also provide additional details for each question in the accompanying pages provided.

Another important note, the FAFSA application belongs to the student. References to “you” mean the student. The FAFSA will identify when parent information is being requested.

Choose a Method to File

You have three options:

It is highly recommended that you complete the application online or through the mobile app because they offer a customized experience. You don’t need to complete the online versions in one sitting, you can create a “Save Key” which you can use to take breaks or share with your parents to help complete the application.

Filling out FAFSA for the First Time

Is this your first time? When you are logging in for the first time, indicate that you are “New to the FAFSA Process.”

FAFSA Renewal

If you are coming back to renew your FAFSA, there have been some changes—but good ones! You don’t need to indicate you are a Returning User for a renewal. The FAFSA will prepopulate some demographic information for you, just make updates as needed.

FAFSA Student Demographics

Read each question carefully and provide the requested information. One thing to look out for in this section. Make sure your name matches what is on your social security card.

How to Add Schools to FAFSA

Remember that school list you put together, now it’s time to input your schools into the FAFSA. The schools on this list will be sent your FAFSA information. Unless you have your school’s federal code (it’s okay if you don’t) you will start to look up each school by location and name.

*You can always look up your federal school code if you’re having trouble finding your school through the search feature on the FAFSA.

FAFSA Dependency Status

The FAFSA will now ask you a series of questions to determine if you are a dependent or independent student for FAFSA purposes. Your FAFSA dependency status is not related to how you or your parents file your taxes, and it does not matter if you rely on your parents for financial support or not.

Undergraduate students can be classified as either dependent or independent. All graduate or professional students will be classified as independent students.

We know dependency status is an area of confusion, so we broke down what you need to know about FAFSA dependency status, dependency overrides and requests for professional judgement.

FAFSA Parent Demographics

If the FAFSA classifies you as a dependent undergraduate student, you will be required to provide parental information. For some it’s easy to determine whose parent information to provide, for others it may not be. Some of you classified as a dependent undergraduate student may be concerned about your parent’s ability or willingness to provide you with the necessary information.

Click here if you need help determining who your FAFSA parent is or have other concerns with providing parental information.

Independent students will be given an opportunity to provide parent information. Although it’s not required, some schools request parent information to provide institutional aid.

FAFSA Household Size

Household size is an important factor in determining your financial aid eligibility. The online and mobile app will auto-populate information based on assumptions. (e.g., if you are dependent and your FAFSA® parent is married, it will assume a household size of 3 – your FAFSA parent, your FAFSA parent’s spouse, and yourself). Don’t forget to add additional household members when necessary!

In this section you will also indicate the number of household members in college for the FAFSA award year, July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. You will include yourself, and others in your household who are enrolled at least half-time in 2021-2022, in a program which leads to a college degree or certificate. Read through this question carefully, you will not include your parents, or any household member who is a student in an U.S. service academy.

What Financial Information Do You Need to File FAFSA?

If you’re a dependent undergraduate student, you will need to provide your own financial information and the financial information of your FAFSA parents. If you’re an independent student, you will only be required to provide your own financial information.

The FAFSA will ask you to report income and asset information. To get an idea of what you will be asked about, check out our article which covers what and how financial information needs to be reported, and how that information may impact your financial aid.

How to Sign and Submit FAFSA

Once you complete your application, it’s time to sign and submit your application. If you have an FSA ID, you can sign and submit your application online or through mobile app. Likewise, parents can also sign and submit the FAFSA if they have an FSA ID. If your parent was unable to get an FSA ID, that’s okay. Print your parent’s signature page, have them sign and mail in the signature page to the address provided.

FAFSA Confirmation Page

If you were able to sign and submit electronically, you will be directed to a Confirmation Page. Print or save a copy just in case. The Confirmation Page will also show the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), estimated Federal Pell Grant and Federal Stafford Loan eligibility, as well as the list of schools scheduled to receive FAFSA data.

FAFSA Mailing Address

  • If you are filing a paper FAFSA, here is where you need mail the completed application:

    Federal Student Aid Programs

    P.O. Box 7654

    London, KY 40742-7654

  • If you, or your parent, need to mail a signature page:

    Federal Student Aid Programs

    P.O. Box 7656

    London, KY 40742-7656

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The information you input in your FAFSA will be used to calculate your EFC. The EFC is calculated by the U.S. Department of Education using a formula which is established by law.

This is the number calculated by the U.S. Department of Education. Overtime the EFC and what it means has shifted quite a bit. Your EFC is more of an index used by your college to determine how much financial aid you would receive if you were to attend their school.

Many think this is the amount of money your family will need to pay out of pocket, but it’s not. And yes, we can hear relief from some of you! It is a great goal number for your family to contribute, but it is not required that your family pay this amount. Now for the tough news, you may owe more than your EFC depending on that amount of financial aid your school offers you.

What Do You Receive After You Submit the FAFSA?

In the coming days, or weeks depending on how you submitted your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which will summarize the information you provided. Your SAR will be emailed to you if you provided an email address, if you didn’t, expect a copy in the mail within three weeks.

If you don’t get one, you want to reach out to the U.S. Department of Education 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), for TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing 1-800-730-8913 or log into your federal student aid account to check the status of your FAFSA.

You want to review your SAR to make sure all the information provided is correct. If there are any errors, you may need to make an update or correction.

How to Make Corrections to Your FAFSA After Submitting

If you realize there is an error in your SAR, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to correct the information.

FAFSA Corrections

You can go back into your electronic application to make a correction, update, or an adjustment. You can make some corrections and updates on your own. However, if you need an adjustment you will need the help of your Financial Aid Office.

If you are unable to login to make corrections, you can make corrections on your SAR and mail them in. You want to confirm with the U.S. Department of Education that you are making corrections on the correct document, so make sure to give them a call to help you through the process: 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), for TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing 1-800-730-8913.

Common types of FAFSA correction:

  • Updating an email address, mailing address, or other contact information
  • Fixing visible typos – except for issues with your social security number and name matching. That may require the help of your Financial Aid Office.
  • Adding or removing college.

What Happens After I Submit My FAFSA?

The information you provided on the FAFSA will be sent to the schools you listed on your FAFSA. They will take that information to determine your financial aid offer.

If you’ve been accepted to multiple schools, it’s not time to start reviewing your financial aid offers from each school. You want to determine the type of financial aid you’re being offered, and how much you would have to pay out of pocket to attend each school.

Why Did I Not Qualify for Financial Aid?

Remember, schools classify student loans as financial aid. Depending on your school’s cost of attendance and your EFC, you may not be eligible for need-based financial aid.

However, if you’re not seeing any federal student aid (like Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans) on your financial aid offer, you may want to reach out to Financial Aid Office. You want to confirm they received your FAFSA information and you completed all necessary steps to receive financial aid.

I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid

After you completed all required financial aid forms you realize you still need more financial aid, all hope is not lost. You want to look into filing a financial aid appeal with your school. There are several reasons why someone may ask for additional financial aid. We break down this process to help you file a financial aid appeal with your school.

Common FAFSA Mistakes

There are some common FAFSA mistakes, but don’t worry, there are ways you can avoid or fix these issues.

Lost FSA ID Password

If you need an FSA ID go to: https://studentaid.gov/fsa-id/create-account/launch. There can only be one FSA ID per social security number.

Students! Don’t rely on your parents to make one for you. They may help you through your first few years completing the application, but you will need these credentials for years to come. You’ll need your FSA ID if you’re applying for financial aid in graduate school, or to log in and see your federal student loan portfolio. Also, don’t make one for your parent’s they will need to make their own.

Parents! Don’t just make one for your child to make the process easier. If they need their credentials and you’re unavailable, it may be challenging for them to reset their password if they don’t know the information to recover it.

What Happens if You File the FAFSA Late?

You don’t want to miss any deadlines. If your state awards financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis from the FAFSA release date, then you want to file it as soon as possible.

Can I Still Submit My FAFSA After the Deadline

If you’ve missed a school or state deadline, you can still file the FAFSA. You may be out of the running for state and school financial aid, but you will still be eligible for federal student aid.

If you’ve missed the federal deadline, then you won’t be able to file the FAFSA for that award year. Talk to your Financial Aid Office if you are getting close to the federal deadline.

FAFSA Head of Household

If you (or your FAFSA parent) filed your taxes as Head of Household and you indicate that on FAFSA, then you can expect to have your FAFSA flagged by your Financial Aid Office. You will be asked to provide proof that you (or your parents) meet the qualification of Head of Household. If it turns out you do not qualify for Head of Household, you may be required to file an amended federal income tax return with the IRS and correct the necessary information on your FAFSA.

Ignoring FAFSA Verification

If you’ve been selected for FAFSA Verification, you should expect to hear from your school. Your school will ask you to verify certain information you reported on the FAFSA.

Do not ignore your schools request! If you fail to provide the requested verification information, your financial aid could be delayed.

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