Understanding Fafsa

Earning a college education is one of the best investments in your future. Today, college students and their families face a “perfect storm” – college tuition is climbing, the economy is weakening, and credit is tightening. Figuring out how to pay for a college education is more challenging than ever before. But one thing hasn’t changed, filling out the government’s aid form is still complicated and time consuming.

Fortunately, more than $238 billion in financial aid is available to help pay for college. Filing your federal financial aid application, known as the FAFSA, is the first step in applying for more than 90% of this money.

We can help. We make your filing process accurate and fast so you have peace of mind that your eligibility for financial aid is the best it can be.

What Is a FAFSA?

All college students are expected to contribute towards their education costs. How much you and your family will be expected to contribute depends on your financial situation — and is what’s called your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form the U.S. Department of Education (ED) requires to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The government conducts a “need analysis” based on financial information, such as income, assets, and other family information, which you (and your parents if you are a dependent student) will be asked to provide.

Your application is examined by a federal processor and the results are sent by computer to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’ve chosen.

The FAFSA is the application most colleges use to determine eligibility for federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.

Eligibility

Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid, including low-interest Federal Stafford and/or parent PLUS loans, regardless of income or circumstances, provided that you:

  • are a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
  • have a valid Social Security Number;
  • have a high school diploma or GED;
  • are registered with the U.S. Selective Service (if you are a male ages 18 to 25);
  • complete a FAFSA promising to use any federal aid for educational purposes;
  • do not owe refunds on any federal student grants;
  • are not in default on any student loans; and
  • have not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs during a period when you received federal student aid.

 

FAFSA Fast Facts

Remember this short list of important items

BulletFAFSAs are required by virtually all colleges and universities and are used to determine a student’s eligibility for nearly all types of federal, state, and college-sponsored aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.
BulletErrors and omissions on the FAFSA often result in processing delays, which in addition to resulting in missed deadlines, cause countless students each year to miss out on all or part of the financial aid to which they might otherwise be entitled—often amounting to thousands of dollars in lost assistance.
BulletFAFSAs that are submitted electronically are typically processed within three days after all signature requirements have been met. Paper applications that are mailed can take up to three weeks.
BulletFinancial aid—particularly grants and other forms of college-sponsored aid and assistance—is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you submit your FAFSA after January 1st each year, the better your chances of receiving consideration for the maximum amount of available financial aid for which you may be eligible.
BulletThe Department of Education advises that it typically takes parents and students 1-2 hours to complete a FAFSA on their own, and complications can add significantly to this time.
BulletIndividual state and school FAFSA submission deadlines vary widely and are often earlier than the Department of Education FAFSA submission deadlines.
BulletMany state and school deadlines fall before the IRS tax filing deadline. The FAFSA may be completed using estimated tax information if a tax return has not been filed. There is no penalty for estimating your income, but you must make any necessary adjustments once your taxes are complete.
BulletEven if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, you must still complete a FAFSA to be considered for most federal student loans.
BulletUndergraduate and graduate students must complete and submit a new FAFSA each school year to be considered for most forms of financial aid.

Applying for Aid – FAFSA Is Step #1

To be considered for federal financial aid, you must submit a completed FAFSA on time.

Additionally, most states, colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award other types of aid, including state-and-college-sponsored financial aid such as grants, loans, and work-study programs.

Besides the FAFSA, some states and colleges require that you file other applications for aid. Check with your college’s financial aid administrator for any state or college-specific requirements.

  1. Complete, electronically sign, and submit your FAFSA on the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site for free.
  2. Complete and submit a paper FAFSA to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for free. A paper FAFSA is available at high school guidance offices, college financial aid offices, and most libraries.

Deadlines

You can file your FAFSA with the Department of Education beginning in January. You can also complete your FAFSA in the fall prior using our FAFSAFirst™ service. We will then submit it to the federal processor for you in early January.

Federal aid is limited and much of it is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you file the better your chances of accessing the most financial aid possible.

Many states, colleges, and universities have filing deadlines as early as the first weeks in January.

Pay close attention to how colleges word their deadline instructions. Some refer to the date by which your FAFSA must be submitted – the Transaction Receipt Date – while others refer to the date your completed aid application must be sent by the federal processor to a college’s financial aid office.

Missing deadlines can ruin your opportunity for financial aid. You should check with your colleges’ financial aid administrators to learn each college’s exact FAFSA deadline. Filing as close to January 1 as possible is highly recommended.

 

Determining FAFSA Dependency

The Department of Education uses a very rigid set of criteria for determining whether a student is INDEPENDENT for financial aid consideration (which means that the custodial parents’ income and asset information is notconsidered in determining a student’s financial aid, and therefore not required on the FAFSA).

Regardless of how much support a student actually receives from his or her parents, he or she is still considered a DEPENDENT student for financial aid purposes UNLESS at least one of the following criteria is met:

  1. For the 2019-19 school year, the student was born before January 1, 1995; or
  2. the student is married; or
  3. the student has a child or children who receive more than half their support from the student; or
  4. the student has dependents (other than a child or spouse) who receive more than half their support from the student, and who also live with the student; or
  5. the student is enrolled as a graduate or professional student (pursuing a master’s degree or doctoral degree); or
  6. the student is a qualified veteran of the U.S. military, or currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training; or
  7. the student is an orphan (both parents deceased) or ward of the court or in foster care at any time after turning age 13, or was a ward of the court until age 18; or
  8. the student is/was in legal guardianship; or
  9. the student is/was an emancipated minor; or
  10. the student was an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or at risk of being homeless on or after July 1, 2014; or
  11. the student has special and unusual extenuating circumstances that can be documented for his or her college financial aid administrators, who may then request a “dependency override” on the FAFSA application. (Note: Exceptions are granted very rarely and only in extreme cases.) Students should contact the financial aid office at the school they will be attending for additional information.

IMPORTANT:
Many students feel that they should be able to declare INDEPENDENT status because they live on their own, file their own taxes, or receive no support from their parents. Unfortunately, the Department of Education is extremely strict with regard to determining dependency status.

If you are considered a DEPENDENT student (do not meet the criteria listed above) and do not provide your parents’ information on your FAFSA, your application WILL BE REJECTED.

Financial Aid Eligibility

Determining Financial Aid Eligibility
Your annual Cost of Attendance (COA) is the total amount of money that a college or university calculates is required to attend that specific institution. It usually includes direct costs (such as tuition, books and fees), as well as indirect costs (such as room and board, transportation and other miscellaneous education-related expenses).

Generally, financial aid is intended to help bridge the gap between your COA and what you and your family can afford to contribute towards your education. Therefore, your financial aid eligibility is determined by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—as determined by your processed FAFSA application—from your total annual COA at a given school.

(Note: Financial aid offices often offer COA estimates and can help answer specific questions regarding tuition, room and board, and other anticipated fees at the college or university you will be attending or are considering.)

Financial Aid Award Notice

Typically, you will receive a Financial Aid Award Notice from each college or university listed on your FAFSA to which you have been accepted for admission.

Any federal financial aid that you may be offered will generally be in the form of grants (such as Pell Grants), work-study programs and loans (such as Federal Stafford and Parent PLUS loans). Additionally, many states, colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award aid from their own resources as well, including grants, scholarships, and other college-sponsored financial aid.

(Note: Your school financial aid office will be able to tell you the approximate date that Financial Aid Award Notices will be sent.)

Multiple Financial Aid Award

They are not all created equal

If you have been accepted for admission to several schools, you may receive multiple Financial Aid Award Notices. Students often compare the aid packages outlined in each to help make their final school selection.

Students and parents are encouraged to carefully review the amount and types of aid that are being offered, paying special attention to the amount of “self-help” aid offered (aid in the form of student and/or parent loans and work-study programs). While the total aid offered at one school may be more than another, there may be more self-help aid included in the package—meaning a greater percentage of financing for which the family will be responsible. Furthermore, in comparing financial aid awards, families should carefully review the true cost of attendance at each school (tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, board, utilities, travel, living expenses, etc.), as the amount of “unmet need” (expenses the family may have to pay for out of pocket) can be significant.

Once you’ve decided which college or university you’re going to attend, you should notify your school of choice as soon as possible (most have a response deadline included in the award notice). Your school financial aid administrator will then be able to offer detailed instructions on the process for accepting any or all of the financial aid offered to you, and on completing any necessary paperwork.

What if the financial aid package isn’t enough?

Given rising college costs, it is not uncommon for students and families to find themselves in need of additional assistance to help cover the total cost of their higher education expenses.

Fortunately, there are options available, including private student loans, that can help. With a credit-based private education loan, you can finance up to 100% of your COA, including related educational expenses such as computers, housing, transportation, etc.