4 steps to filling out the FAFSA to receive financial aid for college

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Ask a Lender
January 19, 2018


Key Points

Steps to filling out the FAFSA

  • Sign up and create a FAFSA ID
  • File the FAFSA
  • Evaluate your student aid report
  • Consider taking out federal student loans

One of the most difficult parts of getting a higher education can be figuring out how to pay for it. One of the first steps to finding financial aid for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known by the acronym FAFSA.

The FAFSA is a prerequisite for most forms of need-based financial aid for higher education. Merit-based scholarships are based on something other than need — such as artistic talent, academic success or athleticism — and don’t necessarily require a FAFSA to be eligible.

Filling out the FAFSA automatically puts you into consideration for all federal financial aid programs, and, potentially, some state and institutional aid programs. Filling out the FAFSA could help you land a work-study program, or receive grants, scholarships or federal student loans. The U.S. Department of Education gives out more than $120 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds each year to more than 13 million college students, according to CNBC. That makes the Department of Education the country’s largest student financial aid provider.

It’s relatively easy to fill out the FAFSA, but there are a number of steps that must be followed to submit the form correctly. Here are four of the main steps you need to take to fill out the FAFSA and receive financial aid for school.

1. Sign up and create an FSA ID

Before you can fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to create a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). The FSA ID is a unique identifier that students can use to access the personal information they have provided to FAFSA. It also allows them to electronically sign the FAFSA.

Though you can use the student’s name, Social Security number and date of birth to login to the FAFSA, you may still be required to provide an FSA ID later in the application process.

You may also be asked to create a username and password on the FAFSA website that is separate from the FSA ID.

2. File the FAFSA

To file the FAFSA, head over to https://fafsa.ed.gov. You can either start a new application, or update an existing application if you’ve already started filling one out. Be sure to have your FSA ID from the previous step available if the application asks you for it.

The FAFSA will ask you a variety of questions, including:

  • Questions designed to determine whether you are a dependent or independent student — that is, whether your parents can claim you as a dependent on their taxes. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll need to provide information about your parents in addition to your own information.
  • Basic demographic information about you and, if you are a dependent student, your parents.
  • Your financial information (and your parents’ financial information if you’re a dependent). This includes information from your tax forms for the previous year, and the balances of any checking and savings accounts.

3. Evaluate your student aid report

After you file your FAFSA, you’ll be able to evaluate your student aid report (SAR), which you can access on the FAFSA website. The SAR will tell you your expected family contribution (EFC). This is the amount of money the government expects your family to contribute to the cost of your college education, and it will affect your eligibility for federal student aid.

The SAR is typically available around two weeks after your FAFSA is filed. The SAR can be accessed online, or you can have a paper copy mailed to you.

4. Consider taking out federal student loans

If you’re not eligible for grants or scholarships — or if the grants or scholarships you received aren’t enough to cover the total cost of your college education — consider taking out federal student loans. Unlike private student loans, federal student loans are low-interest and forgivable.

Filing the FAFSA qualifies students for these loans, and is the first step toward qualifying their parents for the federal parent PLUS loan, which is available to the parents of dependent undergraduate students to help their children pay for college. Parents must not have an adverse credit history to qualify for the loans. The loans become the financial responsibility of the parent, not the student.

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