What You Need to Know About FAFSA Requirements

College continues to get more expensive as the years go on and more students need help with funding their studies. If a student is unable to pay for college themselves and their parents can’t either, they are faced with two options — skip college or get financial aid.

With the FAFSA, students can apply for several different student financial aid types. FAFSA can be your key to getting access to federal grants, loans and work-study programs.

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In this article

    What is the FAFSA? 

    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a way for students to access financial aid for their studies. It’s a simple form you can fill out which determines whether you are eligible for financial aid.

    The form uses personal and financial information from students and their parents. This applies a formula to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). However, a student’s family doesn’t necessarily need to be on a low income for them to get assistance.

    The best thing about applying is that submitting the FAFSA is free so there is nothing to lose. In fact, by submitting the FAFSA, you will automatically qualify for a low-interest federal loan. These types of loans are generally much cheaper than private student loans.

    Documents needed to apply for the FAFSA 

    To apply for the FAFSA, you will need to gather a few important pieces of information and documents. It’s best to get all of these FAFSA requirements ready before you start your application.

    • Social Security number: The first piece of information you need to have ready is your Social Security number. When you apply for the FAFSA, you must enter this number correctly.
    • Your parents’ Social Security numbers: If you are a dependent student, you will need to enter your parents’ Social Security details as well.
    • Driver’s license number: If you have a driver’s license, your license number is also required.
    • Alien registration number: If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need your Alien Registration number at hand.
    • Federal tax information: You will need to submit IRS W-2 forms for you and your parents if you’re a dependent student, or your spouse if you are married. Documents you will have to submit include IRS 1040 or any foreign tax returns.
    • Information on cash and savings: You will need to report any savings or checking account balance as well as any investments you have such as stocks or real estate.
    • Records of your untaxed income: If you receive income such as bank interest, child support, veterans benefits, you will need to report this. Students must do the same for their parents if they are a dependent student.

    How do I apply for the FAFSA?

    Applying for the FAFSA can be a bit of an intimidating and time-consuming experience. It usually takes around an hour to finish if you follow these steps and have all of your documents ready.

    1. Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

    If you are applying for the FAFSA online, you will need to create an FSA ID. This is a unique identifier which you will need to complete the FAFSA each year you are in college. Creating your ID takes a few minutes online. If you are applying with your parents, they will also need an ID.

    2. Fill in your part of the application

    This is one of the most time-consuming parts, it’s time to start filling in your application. All you need to do is choose which form you’d like to complete and fill in each section. Once you get to the dependency section, you will need to put whether you are dependent on your parents or not.

    3. Fill in your parents’ information

    If you previously said that you are dependent on your parents, you will need to enter their details in the next section.

    4. Enter financial details

    The next step is to enter the details of your household’s finances. This will include your income and your parents’ as well. Applying online is beneficial here because you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This will automatically pull data from your tax return to save time.

    5. Review, sign and submit

    Once you have finished, take some time to review your application. Check all your contact and financial details are correct, sign and submit your application.

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    What do I do after I submit my FAFSA application? 

    Once you have filled in your FAFSA, there are a few things left to do. After you hear back about your FAFSA, you should receive your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Make sure you check it’s there as this will be used by schools to determine your student aid eligibility.

    Another thing to check is whether you need to submit any more paperwork to the schools you have applied to. If your family’s financial situation changes at all, you will also need to keep prospective schools up to date.

    Once you receive school aid offers, you should compare each one and choose which one to accept. The rule of thumb is to accept the free ones first (the scholarships and grants). The next one to look at is earned money, which is any work-study aid and then the borrowed money last (the loans).

    Things to consider about the FAFSA 

    One thing to consider with the FAFSA is that it’s best to submit your application as early as possible. FAFSA can work on a first-come, first-served basis at some schools so it pays to submit early. Submitting online is also the best option these days because you can save time, especially when it comes to filling in tax information.

    If you are wondering whether it’s worth applying at all, it’s definitely worth it. It’s free to apply, doesn’t take too long and can result in free money in the form of grants. Besides the free money, the FAFSA will also determine whether you are eligible for any work-study programs or federal loans.

    Where can I get more information about the FAFSA?

    For more information on the FAFSA, you can visit the Federal Student Aid website which provides up-to-date advice on the FAFSA and other student aid details. Our comprehensive financial aid guide on the FAFSA will also go into the steps you need to apply in more detail, the different types of student aid and what to do next.

    Kara Copple

    Contributing writer

    Kara Copple is a writer who specializes in business, finance and marketing industries.

    Reviewed by

    • Courtney Mihocik
      Courtney Mihocik
      Loans Editor

      Courtney Mihocik is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, auto loans, and debt consolidation loans. She is a former writer and contributing editor to Interest.com, PersonalLoans.org, and elsewhere.