The 2018–19 academic year is barely underway, but it’s already time to start thinking about the 2019–2020 year. The 2019–2020 FAFSA opens on October 1, but doing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) just got easier.
There’s an App for That
The Federal Department of Education has released a mobile app that you can download to your phone from any app store. The app, myStudentAid, puts the application process at your fingertips. Although the questions on the application haven’t changed, the process is much easier.
The app also provides a family sharing option which allows you to complete the student portion of the application on your phone and then ask your parent to complete the parent information from another phone or computer. As a security precaution, none of the information entered on a phone will remain on that device. The information will be saved on the FAFSA and will be accessible only when logged in with an FSA ID either on a phone or computer.
Download the app on or after October 1 to be sure you have the most recent version. If you have already downloaded it, you will want to be sure to update before you begin your FAFSA.
If you haven’t done a FAFSA before, you’ll need to create an FSA ID and password. A link to fsaid.ed.gov is offered on the login page of the FAFSA. If you did a FAFSA last year, be sure you have your student FSA ID and password before you begin the application. If you have forgotten either, a “forgot login” and “forgot password” are also available.
If you are a dependent student, one of your parents will also need an FSA ID. You must use a unique email address to create each FSA ID. Be sure to store your FSA ID and password in a secure place since you will use it from year to year and it provides access to other personal financial aid information.
Because the FSA ID is considered a legal signature, you should create your own and not share it with anyone. If you let someone else create your FSA ID and password for you, it can cause delays in completing your application and in processing your financial aid.
Beginning the FAFSA
The first step in beginning the application is to identify yourself either as a student or a parent. If you are the student, you will enter your FSA ID and password. If you are the parent, you will enter the student’s name, Social Security Number and date of birth.
Whoever begins the FAFSA will then create a Save Key. This key will allow the other person—parent or student—to access the application when they log in. This removes the need for the parent to use the student’s FSA ID to access the application.
To complete the FAFSA, you will need the following information. Remember, if you start the application and create a Save Key then you realize there is an answer you do not know, you can pass the Save Key to your parents, and they can pick up where you left off. But, it’s a good idea to know the following before you begin.
Number in Family
The number in the family is an important part of the calculation to determine your need. Be sure to include all members of your family that are receiving at least 51% of their support from you, if you are considered an independent student, or from your parents, if you are considered a dependent student. This may include siblings who are not currently living at home or extended family who may have come to live with you. The FAFSA gives guidance regarding who to include.
Number in College
The number in college is also important. This number may include only those in the household number who are enrolled at least half time at a school that accepts Title IV federally-funded financial aid. The number in college does not, however, include parents who are working on graduate degrees. Again, guidance is provided in the FAFSA to help you know who to include.
For the 2019–2020 FAFSA, you must have your 2017 tax and income information. If you didn’t file taxes in 2017, you will need any income information you have, which includes any W-2 forms issued in 2017. The good news is that you (or your parents) have already filed your 2017 taxes, so you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval tool. This tool allows you to access tax information on the IRS website and transfer it directly to your FAFSA. If you are not eligible to use the Data Retrieval Tool, you will need copies of your 2017 tax return so you can enter the information manually.
You will also need your current totals for cash, savings, checking and investments. Be sure to read the detailed explanation on the FAFSA which explains how you must answer these questions.
Submitting the FAFSA
Once you have provided all of the information, you will sign your FAFSA with your FSA ID. If your FAFSA required parent information, then your parent with an FSA ID will sign it also. Once you have both signed, you can submit your FAFSA. After clicking submit be sure to wait for the confirmation page. This page provides the following important information:
- The EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) number. This is not how much your family will have to pay for college. It is the number schools use to determine your need.
- Estimated amounts for the federal Pell Grant, which you do not have to pay back, and federal student loans, which you do.
If you have siblings who are attending college also, you or your parents can use the link from your confirmation page to import the parent information in a new FAFSA. This will save a great deal of time.
Student Aid Report
Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you will receive an SAR (Student Aid Report) by email. This report will list all of the information you entered on your FAFSA. If you realize that you made a mistake, you can correct your FAFSA using the same login process and creating a new Save Key. The Save Key resets after each submission.
Each school you listed on your FAFSA will also receive a FAFSA report within three business days of your submission.
The Federal Department of Education may select your FAFSA for verification. This means they have asked any school that receives your information to request documentation to confirm that your answers on the FAFSA are correct.
Each school requesting that documentation will contact you individually. You only need to complete the verification process at the school you wish to attend. However, a school cannot offer you a final financial aid package until you have completed this process.
If you are able to use the DRT (IRS Data Retrieval Tool) to complete your FAFSA, you lower your chances of being selected for verification. This, however, does not guarantee that you won’t be selected.
The FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid process, so it is very important that you complete it as soon as possible after October 1. Doing your FAFSA early ensures that you will be reviewed for all aid—federal, state and institutional—early in the process. Everything will be in order in plenty of time for the start of the next school year.