16 of the most common questions about the FAFSA, answered

Need help getting financial aid sorted out? Here's what you need to know about the FAFSA, which can help you pay for college.

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Filling out and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the key to getting financial aid to help pay for college if you or your family can’t foot the entire bill.

The Education Department provides over $125 billion in aid to students each year. While the supply of cash isn’t infinite, all eligible financial aid applicants can expect to get a piece of the pie.

The process—and the application itself—can be confusing, so here are answers to 16 popular questions about the FAFSA.

Before You Start

1. Why Should I Fill Out The FAFSA?

Submitting the FAFSA is the only way to get federal financial aid, including Pell grantswork-study programs and federal student loans.You also often need to file the FAFSA to qualify for state and institutional aid, such as scholarships.

2. My Parents Make Too Much Money To Qualify For A Pell Grant. Should We Still File The FAFSA?

All students should file the FAFSA, even if they think their parents make too much money to qualify. That’s because not all financial aid is based on need. For example, you could qualify for a merit scholarship that requires the FAFSA to be on file.If you don’t qualify for need-based aid programs, you typically can still borrow unsubsidized federal student loans.

3. How Long Does It Take To Submit The FAFSA?

The Education Department estimates it takes applicants less than an hour to fill out and submit the FAFSA. But it will take you longer if you’re not prepared for the process with all required documentation and tax information.

4. When Should I Fill Out The FAFSA?

Complete the FAFSA as close to the Oct. 1 start date as possible every year to ensure you receive the maximum amount of aid. In some states, financial aid is disbursed on a rolling basis. That means it’s first come, first served, so find out your state’s FAFSA deadline.

5. How Do I Get Started On The FAFSA?

To submit the FAFSA electronically, use the form on the fafsa.ed.gov website. Before you can submit, you’ll need an FSA ID. It’s a username and password used to sign in to federal student aid websites. You’ll also need the FSA ID to electronically sign the FAFSA and promissory notes.Alternatively, you can submit the FAFSA by mail. Download and fill out a PDF copy or request a paper copy by calling 1-800-433-3243.

6. What Documents Do I Need To File The FAFSA?

Before you fill out the FAFSA, get all documents together to make the process easier. U.S. citizens typically will need their Social Security number, driver’s license number and tax and income records. Use the 2018-19 FAFSA checklist to determine exactly what you’ll need.

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