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10 Fast Facts to Help Parents Fill Out the FAFSA

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 -- Sarah Cornelius

The FAFSA—if you have a child in or approaching college, chances are you’ve heard about this form. The Free Application for Financial Student Aid, as it’s officially known, is the starting point for all federal and state government dollars available to help students and their families afford higher education. In other words, this is a form that matters. And because of that, it can take on that intimidation factor that many important administrative tasks carry. The good news is that the process is not as complicated as it may sound at first, and there are plenty of resources out there to help walk you through it. Get started with these ten fast-facts about completing the FAFSA.

1. There is no income-cutoff for federal aid eligibility.

Don’t skip filling out the FAFSA just because you are part of high-income family. Factors outside of income are taken into consideration when determining aid awards (including family size, siblings also in college, tuition costs, and more), and even if you don’t quality for any grants, the FAFSA is still required to take advantage of government-subsidized student loans.

2. Know what NOT to mention.

Some types of assets are not required to be declared on the FAFSA, so leaving them off of your application can improve your child’s chances of being awarded need-based aid. If you are a homeowner, your primary home does not need to be declared (secondary homes or real-estate investments, however, are assessed), and you also are not required to include vehicles, boats, or household possessions like furniture. Finally, the FAFSA does not ask about insurance or retirement accounts like 401(k) or IRA plans.

3. A 529 college savings account will be treated like other parental assets.

If you’ve been diligently putting away money in a 529 account, no need to fear—your responsibility will not cost you when it comes to financial aid eligibility. Funds in these accounts will be taken into consideration like other common assets.

4. The FAFSA can influence school-based aid as well.

Government aid isn’t the only thing the FAFSA impacts. The schools your child applies to will also receive a copy of the form, and use it to determine what aid package, including grants and scholarships, they will offer in addition to government aid. Note that a small number of schools, mostly selective private institutions, also require students to fill out a form called the CSS profile to determine their aid packages.

5. States and schools have different FAFSA deadlines than the government.

The federal government offers a long window of time to submit the FAFSA—for the current 2017-2018 school year, students can submit the form as late as June 30th, 2018. However, many states and most individual schools have different (and significantly earlier) deadlines than this. Be sure to do your research on deadlines specific to your state and the schools your child plans to apply to.

6. You don’t need to complete your taxes before filling out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA uses tax information from two years ago, so there is no need to wait to submit the form until after you’ve completed the current year’s taxes.

7. You have to fill out the FAFSA every year your child attends school.

Filling out the FAFSA is not a one-time event. You must complete the form every year that your child is attending college, so that changes in your financial situation can be taken into account.

8. Grades don’t affect aid awarded through the FAFSA.

Federal student aid is not only awarded to students with outstanding grades. In fact, at least initially, grades have no impact on federal aid, including grants, loans, and work-study. However, once aid has been accepted, students do need to show “satisfactory academic progress” to maintain eligibility. This varies by school, but generally includes a minimum GPA requirement, as well as a certain number of credits completed each semester. Keep in mind, some state and school aid may be awarded based on grades.

9. It’s up to your child’s school to provide notification about the aid package awarded.

After completing the FAFSA, don’t expect to hear from the office of federal student aid. Instead, contact the financial aid office at the school(s) your child has applied to in order to find out what they have been awarded. It’s also up to schools to actually disburse financial aid dollars.

10. Pay attention to the details on the FAFSA.

When filling out the FAFSA form, it’s important to double-check the information you’re providing for accuracy. Leaving fields blank, providing incorrect names, addresses, or social security numbers, and other small mistakes can cause time-consuming hold ups in the processing of your form.

Filing the FAFSA is important part of the process for most families to make college affordable. Take a look at this Parent’s Guide to Completing the FAFSA from the U.S. Department of Education for more helpful pointers. And, keep in mind that there are lots of other ways to get the dollars needed to make higher education a reality. Get inspired by checking out these tips to help parents plan ahead for college expenses!