Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is an important step in figuring out how to pay for college and the only way to receive federal aid to offset college costs. Despite being free to complete, many families still forgo the process because of misinformation. Don't let these top four FAFSA myths prevent you from receiving the money you need for college.
Myth #1 - My Family Doesn't Qualify for Financial Aid
Don't assume that you make too much money to qualify for financial aid. Most people qualify for some aid. The FAFSA calculates your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on many factors, such as parent's age, number of dependent children and income.
The FAFSA is used for more than free aid. Many schools use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships, grants, work-study programs and federal student loans. There is no income cap to be eligible for federal student aid. While higher income families may not be awarded need-based aid, your child may still be eligible for merit-based grants or scholarships and federal loans.
Myth #2 -My Child Doesn't Have Strong Academic Scores
Merit-based awards look at a student's grades and achievements, and these awards make up a small percentage of the aid awarded.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, most of the need-based federal student aid programs do not take a student's grades into consideration.
Myth #3 -My Tax Info Isn't Complete
Recent changes to the FAFSA process allow families to use the prior-prior year's tax return to complete the application. Therefore, students applying for the 2017-18 school year should use 2015 tax information. These new changes make filling out the FAFSA easier.
In the past, families typically started the FAFSA in January before they had completed their taxes for the previous year. If parents did not have their taxes done yet, they would have to estimate their tax information and then go back to correct it once their taxes were filed. With the use of the prior-prior tax return, families should already have their taxes filed when completing the FAFSA.
Myth #4 -My Family Didn't Qualify Last Year
Each year is different, and the application can help students identify new changes within their family's financial situation that they might not be aware of. For example, one year, a family might have one child in college, and therefore their EFC would be higher. However, if the family has two children in college the following year, their EFC would be different. The family might be eligible for more aid since they are supporting two children through college at the same time.
If your child is going to college after June 30, 2017, then you can submit the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2016 - and the earlier, the better, since some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Fill out and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible to be eligible for the most aid.
Parents and students should fill out the FAFSA every year no matter what. Filing online is quicker, but families can also submit the application through the mail. It is better to submit the application than to leave needed financial aid on the table. If you feel like the FAFSA process is overwhelming or confusing, you are not alone. Check out Discover's FAFSA assistant to get tips and guidance based on your personal situation.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.