Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
What is the FAFSA?
To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.
In addition, many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid, and some private financial aid providers may use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for their aid.
Some states and schools have limited funds, so don’t delay! Download the myStudentAid app for iOS and Android.
Some federal aid is limited in funding, so don’t put off applying. The FAFSA is available every year on October 1 prior to the start of the academic year.
When filing the FAFSA, you will be asked a series of questions to determine if you are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This is the easiest and preferred way to complete your FAFSA with accurate tax information when filing your FAFSA online. The FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool will allow you to transfer your tax record directly from the IRS to the FAFSA. In order to protect your tax data, the information transferred is encrypted and will not display online. You will get a confirmation message letting you know that the transfer was successful. Each item that is transferred will display the message “Transferred from the IRS” in place of the actual tax figures. The FAFSA should match your tax information on file with the IRS, therefore once transferred you must contact RaiderConnect to inquire about changing any data that was transferred using IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you use the Data Retrieval Tool and you filed an amended tax return with the IRS, you may be required to submit a signed copy of your amended tax return (1040X).
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool can be used at the time you file your FAFSA or after you have filed your FAFSA as a FAFSA correction.
The FAFSA will ask for information about you, your spouse if you are married, and for your parents if you are a dependent student. The FAFSA asks for income and tax information from two tax years prior. That means on the 2020-2021 FAFSA you should use your 2018 income and tax information.
Depending on your circumstances, you may need the following information or documents to complete the FAFSA.
- Your Social Security Number
- Your parents’ Social Security Number if you are a dependent student.
- Your driver’s license number if you have one
- Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
- Federal tax returns and W-2 information for you, your spouse if you are married, and for your parents if you are a dependent student.
- Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducational benefits for you, your spouse if you are married, and for your parents if you are a dependent student.
- Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate but not including the home in which you live; and business and farm assets for you, your spouse if you are married, and for your parents if you are a dependent student. For these asset amounts, you should report the current amounts as of the date you sign the FAFSA rather than the tax year amounts.
For guidance when completing the FAFSA, read the “Help and Hints” located on the right side of any FAFSA entry page.
Many questions on the FAFSA are straightforward, like your Social Security Number. But many questions are asked specifically for purposes of student financial aid. Common words like “household,” “investments,” and even “parent” may have special meaning. Read all instructions carefully. The FAFSA will ask the applicant what types of aid he or she may be interested in, such as work and loans. We suggest you indicate that you are interested in all of them. This will ensure you are considered for all types of aid when schools determine your financial aid awards.
To electronically sign your FAFSA, you must apply for a FSA ID. Providing a valid email address is strongly encouraged. Your FSA ID serves as your electronic signature on FOTW and may be useful for other purposes later. If parents must provide information on the FAFSA, then one parent should apply for his or her own FSA ID as well. If you (or your parent) are unable to use an FSA ID to sign the FAFSA electronically, you will have to provide your signature (or your parent’s signature) on a paper called a signature page. FOTW gives instructions on printing, signing, and mailing the signature page.
Note: Parents without a social security number are unable to obtain an FSA ID. A signature on paper will be required to sign the FAFSA. For more information, follow the instructions given on FOTW.
As for any application process, it is extremely important to keep copies for your own records. Not only of the application but of the documents used to complete the application, like your tax return. This can make responding to any requests for additional information easier and help avoid any delays in the financial aid process.
Once you file your FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education’s Central Processing System will process the application and send you a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is not an Award Notice. The Student Aid Report contains a summary of the information you provided on the FAFSA. It also tells you whether or not you are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. Check all of the information on your SAR carefully and if you need to you can correct your FAFSA. The SAR information will be sent to every school you listed on the FAFSA. Schools use the SAR information to determine your federal student aid eligibility.
After you file your FAFSA, you may need to make additional changes or corrections to the data you entered. Common corrections include:
- Adding a school
- Using the FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update tax information
- Manually updating tax information
Early Aid Estimate
Use FAFSA4caster to get a free early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid.
Contact your college’s financial aid office and talk to your financial aid administrator.
Visit the school’s website or contact its financial aid office. School deadlines are usually early in the year (often in February or March, although some are even earlier).
Online applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2021. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 12, 2020. Remember, the earlier you apply, the more likely you are to receive available money.