October is the kickoff season for financial aid. That’s when incoming and returning college students can start filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for the next academic year. The FAFSA is a prerequisite for federal student loans, grants, and work-study, and may be required by colleges before they distribute their own institutional aid to students.
How do I submit the FAFSA?
The FAFSA for the 2022-2023 school year opens on October 1, 2021. Here are some tips for filing it.
How does the FAFSA calculate financial need?
The FAFSA looks at a family’s income, assets, and household information (for example, family size) to calculate what a family can afford to pay. This figure is known as the EFC or expected family contribution. All financial aid packages are built around this number.
Tip: Starting with the 2023-2024 FAFSA (which will be available next year starting October 1, 2022), the EFC will be renamed the SAI, or student aid index.
When counting income, the FAFSA uses information in your tax return from two years earlier. This year is often referred to as the “base year” or the “prior-prior year.” For example, the 2022-2023 FAFSA will use income information in your 2020 tax return, so 2020 would be the base year or prior-prior year.
When counting assets, the FAFSA uses the current value of your and your child’s assets. Some assets are not counted and do not need to be listed on the FAFSA. These include home equity in a primary residence, retirement accounts (e.g., 401k, IRA), annuities, and cash-value life insurance. Student assets are weighted more heavily than parent assets; students must contribute 20% of their assets vs. 5.6% for parents.
Your EFC remains constant, no matter which college your child attends. The difference between your EFC and a college’s cost of attendance equals your child’s financial need. Your child’s financial need will be different at every school.
After your EFC is calculated, the financial aid administrator at your child’s school will attempt to craft an aid package to meet your child’s financial need by offering a combination of loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study. Keep in mind that colleges are not obligated to meet 100% of your child’s financial need. If they don’t, you are responsible for paying the difference. Colleges often advertise on their website and brochures whether they meet “100% of demonstrated need.”
Should I file the FAFSA even if my child is unlikely to qualify for aid?
Yes, probably. There are two good reasons to submit the FAFSA even if you don’t expect your child to qualify for need-based aid.
First, all students attending college at least half-time are eligible for unsubsidized federal student loans, regardless of financial need or income level. (“Unsubsidized” means the borrower, rather than the federal government, pays the interest that accrues during school and during the grace period and any deferment periods after graduation.) If you want your child to be eligible for this federal loan, you’ll need to submit the FAFSA. But don’t worry, your child won’t be locked in to taking out the loan. If you submit the FAFSA and then decide your child doesn’t need the student loan, your child can decline it through the college’s financial aid portal before the start of the school year.
Second, colleges typically require the FAFSA when distributing their own need-based aid, and in some cases as a prerequisite for merit aid. So, filing the FAFSA can give your child the broadest opportunity to be eligible for college-based aid. Similarly, many private scholarship sources may want to see the results of the FAFSA.
Where can I find more information?
Our goal is to help you understand the overall costs of college, and the process and best types of financial aid available. Check out our “Definitive Guide to Education Planning” webinar to understand your options, the costs, and the best ways to pay for education.
Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions. Copyright 2021. Edited by BFSG.
Disclosure: BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.
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