This is the 4th in our email series to help you better understand and navigate the financial aid process! If you missed the earlier ones, you can find the first one here, the second one here, and the third one here.
REMINDER: October 1 is the first day you can access, complete, and submit the CSS Profile financial aid form. The FAFSA will not be available until December (or possibly as late as January 1st).
FAFSA: RECAP OF REASONS WHY YOU MIGHT WANT TO FILE
You have financial need
You want your student to take out federal loans
Your student is applying to one of the very few colleges that require a FAFSA filing for merit aid scholarships
You want to put a FAFSA on file in the event your financial circumstances might change over the next 4 years (some colleges need an incoming freshman FAFSA on file to engage in financial aid discussions with a student whose family has experienced changed circumstances)
FAFSA: HOW & WHEN TO FILE
How Long Will it Take?
Budget about an hour to complete the FAFSA (probably 30 minutes)
When's the Deadline?
Deadlines vary by college
The deadline for filing the FAFSA will be much later than in previous years due to the delay in the roll-out. Good news: you have longer to complete it. Bad news: this will delay packaging of any needs-based financial aid awards at most schools other than the CSS Profile colleges (which will use the Profile to project the overall financial aid package).
The CSS Profile deadline may correspond with the college's early-action or early-decision date (often November 1 or November 15) or it might be as late as January or February
It will now be possible to import non-financial data from a prior FAFSA filing
Colleges can no longer have a blanket "no financial aid appeals" policy -- all students will have an opportunity to make their case for additional aid based on their circumstances
Students can make up to $9,410 before the money earned is counted against them for financial aid purposes
Distributions from 529 plans owned by family members other than the parent(s) or student will no longer count as assets (all 4 years) or income (in student's junior and senior years of college)
Sibling 529 plans need not be disclosed as a parent asset (only those designated for the benefit of the student applying for aid are parent assets for that FAFSA filing)
Many other sources of untaxed income will no longer be considered, including gift aid, cash support, veterans' education benefits, housing/allowances for military and clergy, and non-parent-owned 529 plan distributions
Child support is now reported as an asset rather than income
Net worth of family-owned businesses or farms with less than 100 employees are now reportable as assets for FAFSA calculations (and will be assessed at parent asset rate of 5.64%)
Students who did not file a tax return in 2022 will not be required to report assets on the FAFSA. Parents have an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000 and did not file any schedules with their tax return will not be required to report assets on the FAFSA.
The FAFSA consists of 5 sections:
Student spouse information (if applicable)
Other parent information (if married but filing taxes separately)
Section 1 will be accessible only with the student's FSA ID. Section 3 will only be accessible using the filing parent's FSA ID. If applicable, Section 4 will require the non-filing parent's FSA ID. In other words, the parent cannot log-in once and complete the entire form as has been possible in years past.
Another notable change from years past: data transfer directly from the IRS is mandated (it is no longer possible to manually enter information from tax returns).
The names of the colleges the student is applying to
If applying to more than 20 colleges:
It does not matter to the federal government which order you list the colleges the student is applying to. Colleges cannot see the entire list.
File the FAFSA with the first 20 colleges
Wait until you have the FAFSA Submission Summary back from the government, then log-in to the student's FAFSA account and click on "Make FAFSA Corrections."
Remove as many colleges as necessary in order to add the additional ones.
This action will NOT withdraw your FAFSA filing from the first 20 colleges.
To be considered for state needs-based aid, some states do require that public state colleges be listed first. You can check what your state of residence requires here.
FAFSA: WHO FILES?
If parents are married or living together, one parent completes the form but reports income and assets of both parents
If parents are married or living together but file separate tax returns, one parent completes Section 3 and the other parent (using their own FSA ID) completes Section 4
If parents are divorced or separated, things have changed:
New Rule: whichever parent provided the student with the most financial support in 2022 is the parent who files the FAFSA and reports that parent's income and assets (Old Rule: the FAFSA parent was whichever parent the student resided with more in the applicable year)
If the FAFSA parent has remarried, the parent must report both income and assets for themselves (Section 3) and their spouse (Section 4)
The FAFSA does not ask for income or assets of the other biological parent or their spouse. However, the CSS Profile typically does require the non-custodial parent to complete their own CSS Profile (and include financial information of their spouse, if applicable).
Schools that only require the FAFSA and not the CSS Profile will only see the financial information of both married parents OR, in the case of divorced parents, the parent (and his/her spouse) who provided the student with the most financial support during 2022. Schools that require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA will most typically see financial information from both biological parents (and any spouses).
In the event the student receives equal financial support from each parent, the tie-breaker may be that the higher-earning parent is the FAFSA parent (but the Department of Education has not yet clarified this).
If the parents are recently divorced or separated, the IRS-DDX will have the capacity to accommodate changes in marital status between the base year and the current year. For example, if a 2024-2025 new college freshman's parents were married and filed jointly in 2022 but separated or divorced in 2023, the FAFSA will apparently be equipped to incorporate this current situation (this remains theoretical for the moment though).
This resource may be useful to divorced families navigating the new FAFSA
If the family has multiple children in college at the same time, the SAI will no longer be divided by the number of students in college. Families can consider appealing to a financial aid office to adjust the SAI under institutional policy, but obviously the success of this approach is likely to vary widely.
For those interested in delving more deeply into this topic, this resource may be helpful
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WE FILE?
The student will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) a few days after you file the FAFSA. The SAR will indicate the Student Aid Index (SAI) -- this is the amount of money the government estimates or expects the family can contribute toward college expenses for the student. This is now, however, the maximum amount of money colleges will expect you to pay.
If the SAR has an asterisk next to the SAI or if the student receives a separate email from the government or a college, you may be requested to submit documents or verify some or all of your submitted information.
Sometimes this is random.
Most of the time it relates to simple errors or inconsistencies within your FAFSA filing.
The student (and parents) should monitor the status to be sure no further action is required and that the filing status has no pending requests.
Requests for verification can also come directly from the college, even after a student has accepted admission and an aid package. Monitor personal email and university portal and email accounts throughout the spring and summer before commencing studies in the fall.
Can I make corrections? Yes. To make corrections or edits, log-in to the student's FAFSA account, click on "Make FAFSA Corrections," enter the student's FSA ID, make any updates or corrections, then hit submit.
What date should I use when the FAFSA asks for current balances? All value-based questions should be current as of the date of filing (if you file on January 5th, you should use whatever amount is in your checking and savings accounts as of that date).
We may all have more questions once the FAFSA opens, but hopefully this provides you with a good foundation of knowledge to approach this financial aid filing. Let me know if you have any specific questions!