What is FAFSA???

Everyone has heard of it but no one knows what it means!

The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid serves a number of purposes.  Pay attention this is Important!

What Is It??

  1. First what is it? The FAFSA is an application that is filled out every year to see if you qualify for Federal government assistance or “financial aid”. This financial aid is commonly referred to as a Pell Grant.  If you are eligible for a Pell Grant you are allowed to reapply for up to six years or until you receive a bachelor’s degree whichever comes first. Pell Grants do not have to be repaid, unless you happen to drop out (more on that later).  If you don’t qualify one year don’t be afraid to reapply annually as circumstances change and most likely any institution you attend will require it unless you are writing a check to pay for school. The maximum amount of the Pell Grant is currently around $6,000.00 a year which is split between each quarter or semester and will vary depending on your financial circumstances. Just as with school aid the amount of Pell Grant you are eligible for is based on your parent’s income.  Unfair as this may seem, it is a fact you are going to have to deal with.  

Am I eligible??

  • Second: the mystical algorithm that makes the determination of “if” and “how much” you may be eligible for seems to be a mystery not only to myself but to everyone else I have ever asked.  It is widely accepted that the cut off is somewhere around $50,000.00 AGI (adjusted gross income), although this could go up or down slightly depending on the number or type of additional assets reported.  This is, however, a good base to work from.  The application can be found at www.fafsa.ed.gov and you will need to fill it out whether or not you are eligible for aid.

When does it Open?

  • The FAFSA Application; opens October 1st of each year and will require you to refer to the current years filed tax return which is actually for the previous tax year.  For example: If you are filing FAFSA on Oct 1st 2018 you will be using your 2017 tax return that was filed in 2018. I recommend filing your FAFSA on or as close to Oct 1st as soon as possible for a couple of reasons.
  • Schools use your FAFSA results or SAR (Student Aid Report) to determine your eligibility for other institutional aid.  Many of these other financial aid options are limited and are assigned on a first come first serve basis dependent on need.  Therefore, you are more likely to get additional financial aid if you are eligible if you are at the front of the line. In Other Words… Get your Application in NOW.
  • Next, if you want to compare financial aid packages between schools that you have applied to, they need to have your FAFSA results before they can send you their offers.  Therefore, again, the quicker you submit the FAFSA to the schools the quicker you will get answers from them and be able to make educated decisions on where to attend.

Gather Your Information First!

  • Before you start your FAFSA gather up the information you will need.
  • Parents Current year Tax Return
  • Your Current Year Tax Return, if you filed.
  • Alimony or Child Support Payment Amounts
  • Mortgage Payments, Loans, Social Security, Etc.
  • Student Social Security Number

What Is A “FSA” ID??

  • Now proceed to the FAFSA website to address your FSA ID;
  • First, you will see a welcome or landing page asking if you would like money for college.
  • If this is your first time click on the “Start Here” button.
  • This will take you to the start page and it is going to ask you for your FSA ID number (Financial Aid Student Identification Number).  If you have never done this before you will not have one. Both you and a parent will need to fill out the form to get one before you can continue with the application.  Usually, the FSA numbers will be verified fairly quickly but can take up to a couple of days.  If you have not received confirmation within several days call the helpline and request help in retrieving them. 
  • On the Login Page Look for the FSA ID box it will be below the “start your application for X year” box.  Note: Do not click the year in school you are currently in, except in rare circumstances. For example: If this is your senior year, you will click Fall/Spring of the following year. Click on the Create an FSA ID and follow the instructions…..NOTE: WRITE DOWN WHATEVER YOU USE FOR A “USERNAME” AND YOUR “PASSWORD” I REPEAT WRITE IT DOWN.  It is a real pain to try and retrieve these and you have to change your password again if you have to go through the retrieval process.  You will use this over and over.     Second: NOTE to Parents; if you have had another student you may already have an FSA ID for them.  You will use the same one.  If you put in your username or email and it says already in use or already verified you already have an account.
  • FSA ID numbers are used as your electronic signature on your FAFSA application.  You cannot submit it without them.  If you want to be one of the first ones in get your verifications done early so you are ready to file on the first of October.  Don’t start the previous year’s application by accident! 

I Have My FSA ID Now What?

  • FSA in Hand and it is October 1st:
  • Go back to the start Page and click on “Start Here” this will take you to the application.
  • Click on what will be your Freshman year date, for example; 2019/2020 FAFSA Application.
  • It will ask you to create a save key.  This is just a series of numbers or letters or combination of both 4 to 8 characters long.  Again WRITE IT DOWN. 
  • This will now take you FINALLY to the beginning of the actual application.
  • Fill out the information, name, birthdate, address, etc. and when you get to the financial portion of the application ask a parent to help you fill out that information.

The Not So Scary Data Retrieval Tool

  • What is “The Data Retrieval Tool?” One of the first things you will see in the financial section is the option to use the IRS Financial Data Retrieval Tool.  What this is, is a quick and easy way to fill out many of the tax questions asked on the application.  If your parent agrees it will redirect you to the IRS website to give an OKAY for the IRS to release the information to FAFSA. Don’t you or your parents freak out, it is okay to use it.  When you have to send your tax return to the schools it will match what is on your FAFSA when you use this.  If you haven’t filed for the current year you may use estimates to fill out the FAFSA. However it will not be complete until your tax return is filed.  If a student has filed a tax return the same tool may be used for their section as well.  This tool also speeds up the process of receiving your SAR.

The Home Stretch!

  • Approaching the last section of the FAFSA; it will ask you several questions. Because at this point in the program you should have already applied to or be in the process of applying to the schools you intend to, you should be able to answer these questions.
  • Do you need financial aid? The answer should be Yes.
  • Are you planning to live on campus? Yes.
  • It will then move on to what schools do you want to receive your SAR? At this point fill in all of the schools you know you are applying to as this is where you have to request they receive your FAFSA information.  There is also a tool in this section to look up the schools and their school codes. If you don’t know every single school for sure don’t worry you can come back and add them later.
  • Hit the submit button and you are done.

Why Does Everyone Want My SAR?

  • Why does everyone keep asking for my SAR what is it?
  • Your SAR is your Electronic Student Aid Report.  It is the completed FAFSA report that the schools, scholarships and anyone else involved with this process is asking for.  The SAR will be emailed to you and you can download it in pdf form.  You need to do this so you can easily upload and send it to people and entities that ask for it.  It will recap all of the information you input for the application in a format everyone uses to make financial aid and scholarship decisions.

So What Does All of This Mean?

  1. What are they looking For?  This whole process is for them to come up with one little number called your EFC.  Your EFC will be located at the top of your SAR with a number somewhere between 000000 and I have seen it go as high as 199999.   Your EFC is your EXPECTED FAMILY CONTRIBUTION and this is what the whole FAFSA process is about.  When someone asks you what your EFC is, this is the number they are referring to.
  2. What Does MY EFC have to do with anything?  Well this is the number that determines your financial aid eligibility.
  3. If you are someone who’s EFC says 000000 it means that there is zero expected family contribution.  If the number says 001234 it means that your family is expected to pay one thousand two hundred and thirty four dollars towards your schooling.  This is what these numbers mean.  If your EFC says 035500 that means that you will be expected to contribute that much towards your school cost.
  4. Don’t get to excited just yet, just because the number says 000000.  Just because it says zero doesn’t mean someone else is going to pick up the whole tab.  In creating a financial aid package there may be a substantial amount of loans in it as well.  We will explain that in the How to Read A Financial Aid Award Letter post.

That Wasn’t So Bad Was It?

So now you know a little bit about the FAFSA, what it is and how to use it.  It is a little overwhelming, to begin with, but if you will just take it section by section and piece by piece it will be over in no time.  Once you have filled it out once it will not be nearly as difficult in subsequent years.

Until Next Time

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