It’s Time to File Your FAFSA
By Aaron Steffens, Director of Financial Aid Operations
This post was originally published on October 6, 2020. It has been updated to reflect the current FAFSA cycle.
The 2023–24 FAFSA became available for completion on October 1, 2022. It’s best to file as soon as you can. The sooner you have your financial aid offer, the sooner you can make decisions.
Just hearing the statement that it’s “that time” makes many parents and students a little nervous, often because this process is new to them, and because they realize its importance. Here are some helpful information and tips:
What is the FAFSA Anyway?
The FAFSA is a federal financial aid form (process) that seeks to determine a family’s ability to assist with college expenses. Going to college is a partnership between families and colleges. Since family circumstances change, you will complete a new FAFSA for each year you will be enrolled, with a subsequent year’s financial information. (Financial aid can change based on changes in income, assets, number of family members, etc.)
Most families use the online FAFSA process.
I Haven’t Made a Final Decision On What College I’ll Choose. Should I Wait to File the FAFSA?
You should go ahead and file the FAFSA now, even if you haven’t made your final college decision. The FAFSA allows you to list up to 10 colleges to which to send your FAFSA results, so you can list any colleges that might be possible options. (We, of course, would really like to see you at Luther!)
What Do I Need To Apply and What Information Must Be Provided on the 2023–24 FAFSA?
We strongly recommend that you first create an FSA ID for both the student and the parent, a username and password combination that allows you to sign your FAFSA form electronically, as well as giving you access to other processes later. It’s easiest to obtain that before you’re ready to complete the FAFSA. When you create your FSA ID, be careful to enter your name and Social Security number exactly as they appear on your Social Security card.
You’ll also need to know your family household size for 2023–24 and the number of those household members who will be in college next year. Feel free to contact a college Financial Aid Office if you’re uncertain how to report these numbers.
In addition, you’ll need parent and student income from the 2021 calendar year as well as the value of assets. Read instructions carefully on what to include. An error often seen for parents is the inclusion of a retirement plan under investments. Designated retirement accounts are not to be reported.
What Is IRS Data Retrieval? Should We Use That for Reporting Tax Information on the FAFSA?
If a federal tax return was filed for calendar year 2021, in most cases the parents or student can request the use of this option to directly transfer parent or student 2021 tax return data into the FAFSA. We recommend that option if it is a possibility for you.
What to Be Careful Of
Some of the really significant items, for both parents and students, are Social Security numbers and birthdates. Occasionally, because parents are usually assisting with the application process, a parent will mistakenly report the parent Social Security number in place of the student an error that is a challenge to correct. If you notice that error, it is important to contact the Financial Aid Office for assistance.
I’ve been Notified of My Merit Scholarships. Is That All There Is?
The FAFSA would determine financial aid eligibility beyond merit scholarships. If you have not yet completed the FAFSA when you are notified of merit scholarships, your financial aid would be reevaluated after FAFSA results have been received.
I Don’t Think I’ll Qualify for Financial Aid. ‘My Parents Make Too Much.’
At the very least, all students would be able to use Unsubsidized Loans if a FAFSA is filed and they might be eligible for other aid as well. For that reason, and because things change year to year, we recommend at least filing a FAFSA the first year of college.
My Parents Won’t Be Helping with My Finances for College. Can I Complete the FAFSA with My Own Information?
In most cases, no. Completion of a FAFSA doesn’t require your parents to contribute, but consideration of their information is required.
My Parents Filed a Joint Return in 2021 But Have Since Separated or Divorced. How Do I Report Parent Income?
If your parents are separated or divorced (and living in separate residences) at the time the FAFSA is filed, you would report using the parent with whom you lived the most in the preceding 12 months and will report only that parent’s portion of the joint income. If you lived with both equally, use the parent who provided the most financial support in the previous 12 months.
Things Have Changed for the Worse Since 2021. How Can That Be Taken Into Account?
Initially, you will still complete the FAFSA using the 2021 information. Once you’ve done so, you can complete a 2023–24 Special Circumstances form, normally located on a Financial Aid Office website Feel free to contact a Financial Aid Office for assistance in that process.
I’ve Completed the FAFSA. What Now?
Once you complete the FAFSA you’ll receive a report of the FAFSA results from the federal processor. Be sure to read any comments provided on that report. Contact the Financial Aid Office with any questions or concerns.
Financial Aid Offices will review FAFSA information after receiving results from the federal processor. In order to provide an accurate estimate of financial aid, additional information may be requested. Be sure to respond to any requests as soon as possible.
What Can I Expect Next?
Once a review of the FAFSA information is complete, the college will contact you with a financial aid offer. At that time, you would have the ability to decline or reduce loans or work-study. Never hesitate to contact the Financial Aid Office if you have questions or need assistance in processes. Financial aid staff are glad to help.