We have all heard the horror stories about students and families trying to complete the dreaded FAFSA. Well as someone who has completed thousands, that’s right thousands of FAFSA forms over the last ten years, it is not nearly as hard as legend has it. And NO, I don’t have thousands of children of my own, but I do help thousands of families file the FAFSA each year.
As with many things that present as overwhelming, if we break It down into smaller more manageable tasks, it is not nearly so scary.
Too Many Questions – Too Much Time to Complete
Based on experience, you can break down completing and submitting the FAFSA into 3 basic parts. Estimate about an average of 40 minutes to complete. (Longer if you type with just your index finder).
Part 1: Demographics and personal information, no better expert than you on this subject. Easy peasy.
Part 2: Tax form information – If you accept the option to have tax data transferred from the IRS, you are basically skipping the next section of questions because they autofill from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Easy peasy, once again.
Part 3: Additional information: Ok, a little more work but this part is not necessarily hard. However you must be prepared ahead of time with the correct documents in order to breeze through this, or you will have to stop and restart while locating the information requested. Use this check list to gather this information and this part too can be a breeze.
Additional FAFSA Myths
Myth: I am pretty sure our family income will not qualify for any aid.
Truth: Keep in mind that there are two types of aid. Need-based aid is determined by mathematical formulas based on various student and family financial data provided on the FAFSA. Not everyone receives need-based aid. The second type of aid is called Self Help Aid which can come in the form of Work Study and Federal Direct Student Loans, which traditionally have lower rates than private student loans along with no payments due while attending school and several other benefits not typically offered by private lenders. FAFSA must be completed to be eligible for these loans.
Myth: I didn’t get any need-based aid last year, why file again.
Truth: Circumstances may have changed that will effect the result of the financial formula, therefore, changing your eligibility status in a given year for need-based aid. Such as having an additional sibling attend college or a reduction in family income from the prior year. Even if you are not eligible for need-based aid, you want to be eligible for the lowest cost borrowing options, if you need a student loan for additional years at school, which filing FAFSA yearly requires.
Myth: My info is the same as last year, so I don’t need a new FAFSA.
Truth: A FAFSA renewal at minimum is required. Before you get too disappointed, remember you can use the Data Retrieval Tool that allows you to import your tax information easily. That means less time spent on your FAFSA for this year. But the truth remains – you need to fill out a new FAFSA each year.
Myth: I can’t afford to submit the FAFSA.
Truth: You never have to pay to submit the FAFSA. If you see any indication otherwise, you’re not on a sanctioned website – fafsa.gov is the only website through which you should submit the FAFSA. There are many free services to help you complete the form if you want assistance such as the College Planning Center.
Myth: It doesn’t matter when I file the FAFSA.
Truth: Technically, the FAFSA deadline for each academic school year isn't until June 30th. But there are other deadlines that are also important. Your State and school most likely have earlier deadlines for FAFSA submission, if you want to be eligible to receive their aid in which FAFSA information is considered.
For more information on financial aid and FAFSA, download our free Financial Aid 101 Guide.