What is the FAFSA
The FAFSA is a free online application for financial aid eligibility for college. It’s used by schools to put together your federal student aid package for one year of college. This package can include grants for college, work-study, federal student loans, and even state and school financial aid.
While financial aid is not the same as student loans, you must first complete the FAFSA form to apply for a federal student loan. Completing the FAFSA online is convenient—and it can make your financial aid search easier.
Who is Frank
Frank is a financial platform that helps college students manage their financial aid and student debt. Sallie Mae has partnered with Frank to offer a free, fast, and easy way to complete your FAFSA.
Where and how to apply for the FAFSA—steps for beginners
Once you’re ready to begin the FAFSA, keep these tips in mind:
- Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. Federal student aid applications can be submitted starting October 1 for the following school year (for example, starting October 1, 2020 for the 2021-2022 school year). Federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so know your deadlines and apply as early as you can to maximize your financial aid.
- Think local. College and state financial aid deadlines vary by state. Check your state’s financial aid deadlines.
- Apply for the FAFSA annually. You need to fill out the FAFSA each year that you are—or plan to be—a student.
What information you'll need to file your FAFSA
To file your FAFSA, first gather all of the documents you’ll need to reference:
- Your driver's license and Social Security number
- You may need your parents’ email addresses so that they can supply their Social Security numbers and birthdates.
- Permission from the family member who completed a tax return if you’d like to import information directly from the IRS. If you prefer not to import it, then you’ll need to provide other financial information:
- Federal income tax return: If you’re applying for academic year 2021-2022, you’ll likely use your family’s 2019 tax return.
- W-2 forms
- Bank statements
- Information about your family’s investments (real estate, money market funds, stocks, etc.)
How is your FAFSA used to calculate your federal student aid eligibility
When you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll provide personal demographic information, as well as financial information, such as your family’s federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, bank statements, and information on your family’s investments.
This financial information is used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an index number that colleges use to determine how much federal financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Your EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law and the information from your FAFSA.
Your eligibility for aid depends on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance (COA) at the school you'll be attending. The COA is the estimated cost to attend for one academic year and, if you attend at least half time, can include tuition, books, supplies, transportation, room and board, and other education-related expenses.
When is the FAFSA due
October 1, 2020
Open date: The earliest you can file the FAFSA for the 2021-2022 academic year.
June 30, 2022
The federal deadline for filing the 2021-2022 FAFSA.
States and colleges have their own FAFSA deadlines. Be sure to check the FAFSA deadline for each college you’re applying to. You can check your state's deadline on the federal student aid website.
Do you have to pay the FAFSA back?
While it may seem like you're getting money from the FAFSA, it's actually just a form and process to get federal student aid, not a student loan. If you receive federal student loans as part of your financial aid award, you would have to repay them.
Financial aid tip
File early to increase your chances of getting aid. According to our survey, most families who filed the FAFSA for the 2020-21 academic year took advantage of the earlier submission window, completing the application in October, November, or December of 2019. We recommend filing as close as possible to the FAFSA open date, which is October.
Debunking financial aid myths
Myth: My family's income is too high to qualify for federal financial aid.
Fact: Student and family income isn’t the only factor that the government uses to decide if a student qualifies for federal financial aid. The only way to know for sure if you’ll qualify is to fill out the FAFSA.
Myth: My family has money saved for college so we won't get any federal financial aid.
Fact: Savings might not be a major factor when a school decides if a student qualifies for Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. There are allowances for savings and assets.
Myth: My sibling wasn't eligible for much federal financial aid last year, so I won't be eligible when I enter college.
Fact: Actually, the number of family members in college might have a favorable impact on your financial aid eligibility.
Myth: I’m only attending college part-time, so I won't be eligible for federal financial aid.
Fact: Financial aid is available for part-time students. Talk to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in attending about aid for part-time students.
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