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 help 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 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, but these awards make up only a small percentage of the total 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

The FAFSA process allow families to use the prior-prior year's tax return to complete the application. Therefore, students applying for the 2021-22 school year should use 2019 tax information. This makes 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.

The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1. Since some schools award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s helpful to fill it out as soon as possible.

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. If you feel like the FAFSA process is overwhelming or confusing, you are not alone. Check out the FAFSA assistant provided by Discover® Student Loans to get tips and guidance based on your personal situation.

FAFSA is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.

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