October is the kickoff season for financial aid. That’s when incoming and returning college students can start filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for the next academic year . The FAFSA is a prerequisite for federal student loans, grants, and work-study , and may be required by colleges before they distribute their own institutional aid to students.
How do I submit the FAFSA?
The FAFSA for the 2022-2023 school year opens on October 1, 2021. Here are some tips for filing it.
- The fastest and easiest way to submit the FAFSA is online at studentaid.gov. The site contains resources and tools to help you complete the form, including a list of the documents and information
you’ll need to file it. The online FAFSA allows your tax data to be directly imported from the IRS, which speeds up the overall process and reduces errors.
- Before you file the FAFSA online, you and your child will each need to obtain an FSA ID (federal student aid ID), which you can also do online by following the instructions. (Once you have an FSA ID, you can use the same one each year.)
- The FAFSA can also be filed in paper form. But it will take much longer for the government to process it.
- You don’t need to complete the FAFSA by October 1. But it’s a good idea to file it as early as possible in the fall because some federal aid programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Colleges typically have a priority filing date for both incoming and returning students; the priority filing date can be found in the financial aid section of a college’s website. You should submit the FAFSA before that date.
- Students must submit the FAFSA every year to be eligible for financial aid (along with any other college-specific financial aid form that may be required, such as the CSS Profile). Any colleges you list on the FAFSA will also get a copy of the report.
- There is no cost to submit the FAFSA. How does the FAFSA calculate
How does the FAFSA calculate financial need?
The FAFSA looks at a family’s income, assets, and household information (for example, family size) to calculate what a family can afford to pay. This figure is known as the EFC, or expected family contribution. All financial aid packages are built around this number.
Tip: Starting with the 2023-2024 FAFSA (which will be available next year starting October 1, 2022), the EFC will be renamed the SAI, or student aid index.
When counting income, the FAFSA uses information in your tax return from two years earlier. This year is often referred to as the “base year” or the “prior-prior year.” For example, the 2022-2023 FAFSA will use income information in your 2020 tax return, so 2020 would be the base year or prior-prior year.
When counting assets, the FAFSA uses the current value of your and your child’s assets. Some assets are not counted and do not need to be listed on the FAFSA. These include home equity in a primary residence, retirement accounts (e.g., 401k, IRA), annuities, and cash-value life insurance. Student assets are weighted more heavily than parent assets; students must contribute 20% of their assets vs. 5.6% for parents.