FAFSA Financial Aid Explained

Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the largest student financial aid provider in the country. Through its student financial assistance programs, authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Federal Students Aid helps make college education possible by providing more than $120 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to American students paying for college or career school. Federal Student Aid ensures that students and their families can benefit from these programs by:

  • informing students and families about the availability of the federal student aid program and the process for applying for and receiving aid from those programs;
  • developing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and processing the submissions each year;
  • accurately disbursing, reconciling, and accounting for all federal student aid funds that are delivered to students each year through colleges and career schools;
  • managing the outstanding federal student loan portfolio and securing repayment from federal student loan borrowers;
  • offering free assistance to students, parents, and borrowers throughout the entire financial aid process; and
  • providing oversight and monitoring of all program participants – schools, financial entities, and students – to ensure compliance with the laws, regulations, and policies governing the federal student aid program.

About the FAFSA Financial Aid Form

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is intended to be used to apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans. Completing and submitting the FAFSA financial aid is free and easy. It gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school. 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.

To complete the FAFSA financial aid form, you will need:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your Alien Registration number (if you aren’t a U.S. citizen)
  • Your federal income records of money earned (you may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA form using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • An FSA ID so you can electronically sign the FAFSA form.

Dependent students will also need most of the above information for their parent(s).

Are You a Dependent or an Independent Student?

If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you are considered an independent student and you generally will not need to provide your parents’ information on your FAFSA. However, if you can answer “no” to all of the following questions, you are considered a dependent student and generally your parents must provide parental information on your FAFSA.

(Note: Law school and health profession students may be required to provide parental information regardless of their dependency status.)

  • Were you born before January 1, 1996?
  • As of today are you married?
  • At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EDD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • Do you now have or will you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020?
  • Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2020?
  • At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court? (If you are not sure if you were in foster care, check with your state child welfare agency. You can find out the contact information for your state child welfare agency here.)
  • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are your or were you an emancipated minor?
  • Does someone other than your parent or stepparent have legal guardianship of you, as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

FAFSA for Parents

For your FAFSA financial aid, you cannot share the same FSA ID with your parents. You and your parent must apply for an FSA ID separately. An FSA ID serves as part of a person’s identification, as well as their electronic signature, and should only be used by that individual. You or your parent can create a FSA ID here.

The key to completing a FAFSA with your parent when you aren’t together is something called the Save Key. The Save Key is a short, temporary password you can give someone when it is time for them to work on your FAFSA. Read the following to see how it works.

  1. Start a FAFSA financial aid at fafsa.gov. Click on Start Here.
  2. On the “Login” page, you can start a FAFSA with your FSA ID (on the left) or your parent can start it with your name, Social Security Number and date of birth (on the right).
  3. Whoever starts the FAFSA will be prompted to create a Save Key. Make a note of it.
  4. Whenever the first person is done with their part, save the FAFSA and close out of it.
  5. Give the other person the Save Key. Then that person can use the Save Key to get into the partially completed FAFSA and do his/her part. A parent can get in by entering the student’s identifiers on the right side of the “Login” screen and never needs to use the student’s FSA ID.
  6. When everyone is done with their parts of the FAFSA, be sure to click “Submit My FAFSA Now” at the bottom of the “Signature Status” page. You are not done until you see the “Confirmation” page, which you should read and save for your records. If your parent has another child in school, there is a link on the “Confirmation” page to start a new FAFSA for that child, allowing your parent to transfer much of their information and save time.

It is important that you and your parent create and use your own FSA IDs. Letting someone else create your FSA ID is not allowed and can create problems and delays with your financial aid.

If your parent does not have a Social Security Number, he/she will not be able to get an FSA ID. In that case your parent will print, sign, and mail in a paper signature page.

Federal Student Aid Eligibility

To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must:

  • Be a citizen or eligible non-citizen of the United States
  • Have a valid Social Security Number (students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are exempt from this requirement)
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or have completed homeschooling. Go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/basic-criteria for additional information.
  • Be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan
  • Register (or already be registered) with the Selective Service System, if you are a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Students from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau are exempt from registering; see https://sss.gov for more information)
  • Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid. If you have such a conviction, you must complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you are eligible for aid or partially eligible for aid.

Other requirements may apply. Contact the financial aid office at your college for further information.

FAFSA Deadline 2019-20

The federal deadline for online applications is on midnight Central Time (CT), June 30, 2020. Any correcting or updates must be submitted by midnight CT, September 12, 2020.

College deadlines may vary. Check with the college(s) you are interested in attending. You may also want to ask your college about its definition of an application deadline, whether it is the date the college receives your FAFSA form or the date your FAFSA form is processed.

State deadlines may also vary. Check your state’s deadline at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa#deadlines.

Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA financial aid as soon as you can after October 1 to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.

Federal Student Aid Contacts

If you need further assistance regarding your application for a federal student aid or the FAFSA financial aid form, you may chat or email the Federal Student Aid. You may also call the Federal Student Aid at:

  • 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
  • 1-334-523-2691 (international caller/toll-free call)
  • 1-800-730-8913 (hearing impaired – TTY calls only)

The hours of operation are as below.

  • Monday – Friday: 8 a.m.-11 p.m. ET
  • Saturday – Sunday: 11 a.m-5 p.m. ET
  • Open on New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, and Washington’s Birthday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. ET
  • Closed on federal holidays, the day after Thanksgiving and on December 24th.

Visit the Federal Student Aid website at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/.

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