How To Apply For The simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) 

The long-awaited simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to request financial help for the 2024-25 year is finally here.

The Department of Education officially launched the new FAFSA form about three months later than its usual Oct. 1 date. The period leading up to and following Dec. 31 is serving as a soft launch, allowing the government to “monitor and respond in real time to any potential issues impacting the applicant experience,” according to the Federal Student Aid website.

“You will have plenty of time to complete the FAFSA form,” the website reads. “If you do submit your form during the soft launch, your information will be saved, and you won’t need to resubmit your form or any related information. If your form is unavailable when you or your family members try to access it, please try again later.”

For the 2024-25 school year, FAFSA will be reduced to just 36 questions from 108, including detailed financial information, and it will be easier to import income data from tax records. Along with the pared-down form, the Department of Education changed its formulas so, among other things, more students would be awarded Pell Grants, which don’t have to be repaid. It also will no longer include a sibling discount so families with more than one child in college may get less aid.

 

The goal of the new FAFSA form is to make it easier for students and families to get money to pay for school, but the lateness in getting it out may have complicated things for those who have to complete it this year. Worse, schools won’t even receive any information they need to determine aid until the end of January, the Department of Education said.

Since no other deadlines for submission or decisions have been moved back, the entire process has been compressed, making it more important than ever to stay calm, focused, organized and get everything right the first time or risk leaving money on the table.

Here’s some of what to expect and tips to help maximize your time and chances to get every penny you can for school.

Less time, maybe less support. Due to the shortened timeline, students and families not only have less time to complete FAFSA but may not get as much help as they normally would. So, make sure you know requirements from schools you’re interested in. “Those states with FAFSA completion as a high school graduation requirement will be operating under immense pressure to support students in a timely manner and ensure all requirements are met,” the National College Attainment Network warned in a statement in November.

  • Questions, additions and corrections. If you need to make corrections or additions, answer school questions, or provide more information, you won’t be able to until February at the earliest, further delaying financial aid offers, said Shannon Vasconcelos, Bright Horizons college coach, a unit of childcare operator Bright Horizons. So, make sure “to get all your ducks in a row upfront,” she said. “Prepare and send any information upfront if you have special circumstances — if the tax year 2022 information for the 2024-25 FAFSA is no longer representative of your financial situation. There’s no time for a lot of back and forth.” Also, send your information to all the schools you’re even just considering so there’s no delay if you decide to apply. If you don’t, the school just won’t do anything with information and there’s no harm.
  • State aid. The new FAFSA won’t include links to state aid applications this year. Most states don’t require a separate form for state aid, but applicants in Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont do. You’ll have to find and complete the state application or potentially lose out, Vasconcelos said.
  • FSA IDs. This year, “you need it to get started and it could be a three-day processing time to get it confirmed,” Vasconcelos said. The student needs one and at least one parent, depending on whether taxes are filed jointly or separately if the student is a dependent. Email addresses or mobile phone numbers are required.
  • Scams. Remember, you never have to pay anyone to help you with student loans or to complete FAFSA. Also, check the loan servicing company you’re working with is legit and always complete your form at the official Federal Student Aid website. You can find more tips on how to detect fraud and scams at the Federal Student Aid site.

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