Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Financial aid can come from a school, the state, a private organization, or the federal government. Anyone who plans to pursue financial aid to help pay for college should familiarize themselves with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application.
Every year, the U.S. Department of Education provides $120 billion in aid to more than 13 million students nationwide. This aid comes in the form of grants, loans, and federal work-study programs. To gain access to these forms of aid, students must complete the FAFSA. After they complete and submit the form, the office of federal student aid determines how much aid the student is eligible to receive. The benefits of this form extend beyond federal student aid. Many states use the FAFSA form to determine student eligibility for state or school financial aid. For students excited to start a degree in medical billing and coding but worried about the cost, the FAFSA application can help.
How to Get Financial Aid in Medical Billing and Coding
Financial aid for medical billing and coding students comes in many forms, from both public and private sources. General and subject-specific scholarships can come from the state, a private organization, or a school. Grants from the federal government or private sources award students with fewer strings attached. Loans and loan-forgiveness programs also make paying for school easier. Work-study programs allow students to work off the cost of college as they go.
The FAFSA provides aid primarily through federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. Federal loans differ from private loans that banks or other private institutions offer in that they follow more lenient practices, including lower interest rates and a delayed start on making payments until the student graduates. Unlike a loan, a grant does not need to be repaid. The federal government awards grants based on need, and not merit. Work-study programs allow students to pay off part of tuition costs through an on-campus, part-time job.
You must re-submit your FAFSA form every year to keep the federal government updated on your anticipated need. The federal government calculates student need each year using a metric called expected family contribution (EFC), which factors personal income, assets, and family income together. The FAFSA then subtracts the EFC from tuition cost to determine need. If students fail to meet basic eligibility criteria or make satisfactory academic progress, they may lose their eligibility for FAFSA aid. Additionally, students may need to repay part or all of a grant if they drop out of their program or receive significant external scholarships or grants, which eliminate their need for aid.
FAFSA Eligibility Requirements
Generally, an applicant must show a valid Social Security number, high school diploma or GED, satisfactory academic record, and proof of acceptance or enrollment into a degree or certificate program. Noncitizens must present special documentation or status. Male applicants must also show Selective Service registration. However, exceptions may be made to some of these requirements on a case-by-case basis. For instance, an immigrant victim of domestic violence or their child may use battered immigrant status as a valid substitute for proof of citizenship.
How to Complete the FAFSA
When Should You Submit the FAFSA?
When in doubt, submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. The FAFSA becomes available every year on October 1. Different schools can set their own deadlines for submitting the FAFSA before each year’s federal deadline. They do this because, oftentimes, state or school aid derived from federal funding is limited and can run out quickly. However, this may not always be the case. Some students might consider the possibility of carefully timing their filing with consideration to their assets. For instance, it may make sense to resolve outstanding debt payments that will not factor into your EFC prior to filing your FAFSA application.
What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?
Prior to completing the FAFSA, you must gather some additional documents and information. First, you visit the federal student aid (FSA) website to create your FSA ID, a username and password which you will use to log in to your online FAFSA application and a number of other Department of Education websites, including StudentAid.ed.gov and StudentLoans.gov. To create your username and password, you must share your Social Security number, date of birth, and full name.
After this, you must gather your Social Security number or alien registration number, driver’s license number, tax records, records of untaxed income, records of assets, and a list of potential school choices. Dependent students must also gather all of the above documents from their parents. Financial records allow the federal government to calculate your EFC, and the list of potential schools alerts them to the institutions you wish to share your FAFSA information.
Filling Out Your FAFSA
You may complete the application online or by mail, which includes printing a PDF online and mailing it in or having a paper copy sent to your address. The main advantage of completing an online application is the ease with which you can quickly correct mistakes by submitting a new online FAFSA form.
The form comprises a series of questions. The student information section includes your Social Security number, citizenship status, date of birth, and marital status. The student financial information and parent information sections detail earnings, income, assets, and tax returns. The student status section gauges whether or not your parents will contribute to your degree. Student household information gauges how many people live in your household, how many of them are your dependents, and whether or not you or your family receive any federal benefits. The form ends with certifying statements from both you and your parents that you do not owe the federal government money, will not abuse federal aid money, and that your parents will submit verifying information as well as their tax forms.
Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA
- Apply Online: Online applications take less time to complete, as the form skips irrelevant questions automatically and catches common errors. Applying online also expedites processing time.
- Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: Use this tool to automatically complete the FAFSA, which saves you time and reduces the likelihood of errors and selection for verification.
- List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order: Generally, listing your potential schools in a specific order does not impact your application. However, some states hold specific requirements for the ordering of the list, generally relating to in-state colleges.
- Complete Every Field of the Form: Completing every field of the form lowers the chances of processing issues that could delay your aid’s delivery. Fortunately, the online application alerts you to fields improperly left blank.
- Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances: If you need to explain some extenuating financial or household circumstances, do not hesitate to include this information in an explanatory letter. Your FAFSA form alone may not give this opportunity.
Submitting the FAFSA
How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?
To complete the form, you must provide a signature. You may either provide an electronic signature, or print and mail a signature page. Printing and mailing the signature can delay processing. After signing electronically, the FAFSA site displays a confirmation page, which you should print.
Student Aid Report
Your Student Aid Report (SAR) contains your EFC as well as your data release number (DRN), a number you will need if you want to authorize your school to change information on your FAFSA. Both you and the schools you listed on the form receive the SAR. Review your SAR for accuracy and then store it somewhere safe. If you find a mistake on the SAR form, you must correct your FAFSA form. If your SAR indicates that you have been selected for verification, you will likely need to submit your tax information.
How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?
The amount of FAFSA funding a school decides to award you comes in the mail as an aid offer. From there, follow the instructions on how to accept the aid. You do not need to accept aid offered to you. As a rule of thumb, scholarships and grants get first priority, then work-study programs, and then loans. You will likely receive scholarship, grant, and loan money much faster than aid through a word-study program.
What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?
The federal deadline for completing FAFSA varies yearly but generally falls at the end of June. Different schools make their own deadlines for receiving FAFSA forms.
Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?
You must maintain satisfactory academic progress in order to receive FAFSA funding. A GPA well above the minimum raises your chances of receiving the funding.
Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?
There is no age limit for receiving federal student aid. Nontraditional learners may apply for federal aid just as easily as fresh high school graduates.
Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?
Your household income cannot automatically disqualify you from receiving FAFSA funding. Your eligibility for aid is determined by other factors, such as your potential schools or year in school.
Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?
No. If you can prove U.S. citizenship or show other accepted forms of documentation, it does not matter if your parents are not U.S. citizens.
How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?
Gathering all necessary materials could take a few hours. The FAFSA form itself generally takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?
It makes more sense to file your FAFSA after you have applied. Your potential schools will not offer you aid until you have been accepted.
Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?
You may find more information about FAFSA at StudentAid.ed.gov, the Federal Student Aid YouTube channel, or the financial aid office of a college you want to attend.