The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, can be a time-consuming and tedious task for many students and families.
But once completed, the renewal process for subsequent years “can be a much quicker process,” as information autopopulates in the form, notes MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance at the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit that promotes closing equity gaps in higher education.
“You’re not starting from scratch,” she adds, “and if you are a family that uses the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to bring over your financial information from the IRS, you can really get through a renewal FAFSA in a very quick time frame.”
For the 2022-2023 FAFSA, for example, it took dependent students less than 54 minutes on average to complete a new form and 35 minutes to complete a renewal; the average completion time among independent students was less than 21 minutes for a new form and 17 minutes for a renewal form, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
How to Renew the FAFSA
To file a FAFSA renewal, applicants should follow the steps below.
1. Gather the necessary documents.
Up-to-date financial and tax information from the “prior prior year” is required for FAFSA renewal. This means that applicants filling out the 2022-2023 form, for instance, should use the 2020 federal income tax return.
Dependent filers report information from their own and their parents’ taxed and untaxed income records, bank statements and investment records, if applicable. Those filing independently report the same things as well as provide a spouse’s information, if married.
To be considered independent, a student must meet at least one of numerous criteria, some of which are: at least 24 years of age by Jan. 1 of the school year for which you are applying for aid; working toward a master’s or doctorate degree; married or separated; homeless or at risk of being homeless; a parent who provides more than half of the financial support; in foster care, an orphan, or ward or dependent of the court after the age of 13; a veteran or active-duty military member; or an emancipated minor.
[Read: FAFSA Deadlines You Should Know.]
2. Log into fafsa.gov using your FSA ID.
First-time applicants and parents — if filing as a dependent — create an FSA ID using a Social Security number, full name and date of birth. This ID is used for every year a student submits a FAFSA form.
While filing a renewal, if a student or parent does not remember his or her FSA ID, there’s an option to select either “forgot username” or “forgot password.” Additionally, instead of using a username, applicants can also sign on with a phone number or email address associated with the ID.
The FAFSA can be accessed on a computer, mobile phone or tablet.
3. Review pre-filled information and update financial information.
Once logged in, students should select the application for the next academic year. The FAFSA will prepopulate with standard information like the applicants’ name, address and Social Security number from the prior academic year. Students and parents can then update the form and add required financial and tax information.
Jill Desjean, a policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, advises applicants to “be careful” when reviewing the FAFSA.
“You really want to still look at the pre-filled information and make sure it is still accurate,” she says, “because you could inadvertently make a mistake filling it out by just skimming over it.”
4. Sign and submit the FAFSA renewal.
Before a FAFSA is considered complete, a signature is required by the student — and a parent if the student is filing as a dependent — which can be done using the FSA ID.
Days or weeks after submission, applicants will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, that summarizes the information disclosed in the form. The report also includes an expected family contribution, also known as EFC, which determines a student’s estimated eligibility for federal Pell Grants and student loans.
Additionally, the SAR informs a student if he or she was selected for verification by the Department of Education. On average, more than 3 million individuals potentially eligible for a Pell Grant are asked to confirm their information through the verification process.
It takes up to five days after an online submission and between seven to 10 days for print forms to be processed by the Department of Education and forwarded to an applicant’s school.
How Often Should the FAFSA Be Renewed?
A student should complete the FAFSA every year he or she wants federal, state or even institutional financial aid.
“Private scholarship foundations also often use the FAFSA to identify potential scholarship and grant recipients,” says Ann Hendrick, director of Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s Get2College program. “So it’s very important for funding a college education.”
The 2022-2023 FAFSA opened Oct. 1 and students have until June 30, 2023 to submit it. State and institutional deadlines vary but are often well before the federal deadline. Renewal applications for New Jersey, for example, are due April 15, 2022.
Four-year colleges typically have deadlines earlier for first-year students than renewals, according to Keller.
“Institutions are not as likely to have any version of an early deadline for your returning students because you know they are there,” she adds. “Often times, when awarding financial aid packages, colleges tend to go in the order of incoming students first because they have to make a commitment by May 1, followed by then awarding upper class. Colleges will award upper class at different times. Some may do it in the spring but often times, they may wait until grades post for the spring semester.”
If a student or parent has questions about the FAFSA, the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Information Center, or FSAIC, provides support through phone, email or web chat. College financial aid offices also offer assistance.
Additionally, many colleges and nonprofits like WHEF have developed YouTube videos to provide step-by-step instruction on how to file a FAFSA renewal.
“People all over the country use our walk-through, which I think is wonderful because it screenshots every section of the FAFSA and explains the correct way to complete it,” Hendrick says.
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