FAFSA got a makeover, and the process is simpler for low-income families.
It’s no surprise: the FAFSA is a pain, but the Department of Education has been working to make the process hurt a lot less.
The deadline – June 30, 2021 – is still more than a year away to get financial aid for the 2020-2021 school year, but aid is usually first come first served. So, you may want to start now. Here are some updates on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid from the Department of Education to keep in mind before filing.
We’ve also included some tips to help the process go smoother.
Most people qualify for student aid, yet more than 20 percent of undergraduate students didn’t fill out the 2016 FAFSA, according to data from the Department of Education.
Some of the top reasons why people didn’t file are because students didn’t understand how to apply, and the forms were too much work. Here are a few updates the department made to make it easier on students and parents:
- Now, the FAFSA website will tell you in real-time what items you need for each requirement, and whether you’ve filled it out incorrectly.
- They’ve also redesigned the website to be easier to access from any device, including a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet.
- The income threshold for an automatic zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC) has increased from $25,000 to $26,000.
The EFC is the amount the parents are expected to pay toward their child’s education. It’s based on your parent’s income. Generally, the lower your EFC number, the higher amount of aid you qualify for.
Tips for filling out the FAFSA
Even though the FAFSA is still tedious and confusing, there are some ways to simplify the process, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).  Here are some of their suggestions:
1. Apply early
Because aid is offered on a first come first serve basis, colleges will urge students to apply for aid as quickly as possible.
You no longer have to use your income tax from the prior year to fill out the FAFSA, thanks to changes by President Obama in 2015. You can use tax information from two years prior, making it easier for students and parents to file early. This also gives you a better chance of aid eligibility.
2. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
When you begin to fill out a FAFSA, you’ll have the option of linking your IRS data to the FAFSA website. This will fill the requirements for the tax information in the FAFSA, and reduce the risk of any errors.
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool also makes the FAFSA faster for students and parents to fill out.
3. Avoid these common errors
NAFSAA lists the most common FAFSA mistakes, but here are a few of the most glaring, and easiest to correct.
- Triple check your Social Security Number or driver’s license number to make sure it’s correct. While most mistakes can be corrected on the spot, you may have to file a whole new form just to correct your SSN.
- Don’t leave blank fields. This can cause miscalculations, according to NAFSAA. Enter “0” or “not applicable” instead.
- Enter a permanent address instead of your campus dorm or apartment address.
4. Get free help filling out your FAFSA
The federal government can help you fill out your FAFSA for free over their hotline at 1-800-433-3243, or on their Live Chat while you’re in the process of filing online. There’s also a frequently asked questions page on the FAFSA website.
This will help you avoid any errors in your application, and can help you file more smoothly.
Cameren Boatner contributed to this report.
Published by Debt.com, LLC