Every year, more than $2 billion worth of free money for college goes unused. This may be why. 

Three in ten Americans have a hard time filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, according to Debt.com’s latest survey. The biggest reason seems most don’t know all the required financial information they’ll need to file. Our findings are similar to other survey results questioning why more eligible students are leaving financial aid on the table.

Back in 2018, the federal government wanted to find out why lower-income students neglect to fill out a FAFSA. Of students who don’t file, 3 out of 10 said “I thought I wouldn’t qualify” and “it’ll cause me to take on more debt.”

Here’s why all the above statistics are alarming: More than 44 million Americans owe an average $37,000 student loan tab. Below are the most interesting results from asking “Is it hard to apply for FAFSA?”

3 in 10 respondents said they’ve had trouble filling out FAFSA

Illustration by Ivan Benavides.

The majority of survey respondents said they “didn’t know the required financial information” to file FAFSA

Illustration by Ivan Benavides.


3 out of 5 FAFSA applicants said they qualified for financial aid

Illustration by Ivan Benavides.



Have you or someone in your household ever filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form? Percentage of respondents
Yes 76.56%
No 23.44%
Did you have trouble filling out a FAFSA form? Percentage of respondents
Yes 31.40%
No 68.60%
What was the biggest challenge you had filling it out? Percentage of respondents
I didn’t know all the financial information they asked for 44.11%
I didn’t have any help filling it out 27.76%
I received an error message 18.25%
I didn’t create an FSA ID beforehand 7.22%
I didn’t know the deadline 2.66%
Did you feel you or your child qualified? Percentage of respondents
Yes 88.76%
No 11.24%
Did they end up qualifying? Percentage of respondents
Yes 67.90%
No 21.64%
I don’t know 10.64%
Did you feel the Pell grant would contribute to you taking on more debt? Percentage of respondents
Yes 34.27%
No 65.73%

Debt.com has tips for filing FAFSA.

Methodology:  Debt.com surveyed 1,156 people and asked six questions about their experiences applying for a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. The survey was conducted from April 19, 2021, to June 16, 2021.