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Paying for college is expensive, and chances are good that if you’re headed to college, you’re going to need some type of financial aid. That’s why it is so important to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.
This form opens up the door to receiving Direct Loans from the U.S. Department of Education, but it also does much more. FAFSA allows you to provide detailed financial information used to gain access to all different kinds of federal and state aid, from federal work-study programs to scholarships and grants offered by the federal government, your state, or your school.
You need to complete the FAFSA by the submission deadline or you will not be able to access most types of free money or government student loans to go to school. In fact, it’s often advised you complete the application as soon as it becomes available, rather than waiting until the federal FAFSA deadline, because many types of financial aid are limited, so you want access before the money runs out.
On this page:
- What are the FAFSA Deadlines?
- What Happens if You Miss the FAFSA Deadline?
- How Can I fill Out a FAFSA Application?
What are the FAFSA Deadlines?
There are strict financial aid deadlines for completing the FAFSA, so you need to plan in advance to submit your application before the due date.
Each year, the FAFSA becomes available in October and it remains available for 18 months until June 30 of the following year. For the 2020 to 2021 school year, the FAFSA first became available on Oct. 1, 2017, and the federal deadline for submission is June 30, 2019, although there may also be state deadlines you’re subject to, depending on where you live.
This means you still have a little bit of time to submit the FAFSA if you’re finishing high school and going to school in the next academic year. If you’re hoping to receive federal aid for the summer or fall semesters, you should not wait to complete your financial aid application.
For the 2020 to 2021 school year, the FAFSA became available initially on Oct. 1, 2018. It will remain available until June 30, 2020.
But, while you have a lot of time to complete the FAFSA under federal rules, the school you’re hoping to attend may have a shorter deadline, so you may need to submit the FAFSA earlier to comply with your school’s financial aid requirements.
Waiting until the last minute could also mean that there isn’t much work-study funding left, or that most of the scholarships and grants you might be eligible for have already had their funding exhausted. While you should be able to get federal student loans even if you submit the FAFSA later, you don’t want to reduce your chances that you’ll be able to access some of the free sources of funding.
And, you definitely need to submit your FAFSA before the due date because if you’re unable to get federal student loans or work-study and your scholarship and grant options are severely limited, affording school will be much more difficult.
What Happens if You Miss the FAFSA Deadline?
If you miss the federal FAFSA deadline, you’re out of luck for many types of financial aid – but this does not mean you have no options.
Check with your school’s financial aid office to see if they can find a way to help you access some aid – such as school-specific loans, scholarships, or grants.
You can also apply for scholarships independently. Not only do many schools offer scholarships, but you can also sometimes find scholarships online, from local organizations, from charities, from groups or sports teams you are a part of, from your church, or from other sources. When you look for private scholarships, the FAFSA won’t be a requirement, so you will still be able to access funding through those channels.
Applying for private educational loans is also an option. Private student loans do not provide all the borrower benefits that you get with federal loans. You won’t be able to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness, for example. And, you’ll have less choice for payment plans, with no options for income-driven repayment in most cases.
Still, private student loans are available even with no FAFSA, and you can often borrow up to the cost of tuition with private student loans. Since there are no standardized interest rates with private student loans, it is critical that you shop around to make sure you get the most affordable interest rate.
How Can I Fill Out a FAFSA Application?
Filling out your FAFSA is easy and can be done online on the Federal Student Aid website. The first time you visit the website, you will need to create a free account. After you’ve created an account, you can return to your application if you’re not able to fill out all the forms in one sitting.
>> Read More: Frank FAFSA Tool and Service Review
The process of completing the FAFSA is straightforward. You’ll simply need to provide information on your personal and family financial information. Information from your tax returns needs to be included on the FAFSA, so be sure to use the correct year’s returns. For the FAFSA for the 2019 to 2020 school year, you will use 2017 tax information. For the FAFSA for the 2020 to 2021 school year, you’ll use 2018 tax info.
Bottom Line: Fill Out Your FAFSA on Time
Filling out your FAFSA is essential if you want to reduce the costs of attending college by becoming eligible for the maximum amount of financial aid funds, including for government loans with favorable terms.
You should fill out the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available for your school year. Always make sure you get the FAFSA in by the June deadline to avoid limiting your opportunities to get financial assistance.
If you think you’ll need substantial financial aid to help pay for college, check out our study of the Best Colleges for Financial Aid to see which you are most likely to receive significant aid at.
Author: Christy Rakoczy