FAFSA Renewal: 3 Steps to a Pain-Free Application

The renewal FAFSA is easy to submit, but you should complete it early and make sure all pre-filled information is accurate to get full access to financial aid.
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The infamously long and detailed Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, isn’t only for high school seniors. Each year, college students and their parents need to fill out a renewal FAFSA to qualify for financial aid. But there are some notable, encouraging differences between the initial and the renewal application.

“It’s not as tedious as it was before,” says Denise Scalzo, director of financial aid at Manhattan College.

The 2018-19 FAFSA will be available Oct. 1, 2017. Here’s how to make submitting it as pain-free as possible — and why you’ll want to fill it out as soon as you can.

1. Ensure pre-filled information is accurate

When you log in to fafsa.gov with your Federal Student Aid ID, the system will recognize that you completed a FAFSA last year. Your name, contact information and other identifying information will be pre-filled on the form, which saves applicants at least 10 minutes, Scalzo says.

Catching an error now means you won’t have to correct it later, which could delay your financial aid award.

It’s crucial to make sure the data imported is correct, though, says Jacquelynn Mol, assistant director of financial aid at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Because it’s based on your situation from the previous year, it won’t record address or school changes, for example.

“The FAFSA includes an assumed logic that can sometimes add incorrect information for the current FAFSA year,” she says.

Catching an error now means you won’t have to correct it later, which could delay your financial aid award.

2. Import income information automatically

You and your parents must enter up-to-date financial information so your school can determine how much aid to give you. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool makes it easy by letting you import your income information from the correct tax return to your FAFSA.

As a result of changes the U.S. Department of Education rolled out last year, students can now file their FAFSA in October using tax information from two years prior. That means starting Oct. 1, 2017, you can file your 2018-19 FAFSA with 2016 income tax data. Families no longer need to enter estimated income information and update it later, after they’ve done their taxes.

3. File early in the FAFSA cycle

It’s ideal to file your FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible. That’s because some types of financial aid are first-come, first served, and they don’t carry over even if you received them last year.

“Self-help funds, like college work-study, run out fast,” Scalzo says.

Even if you think you won’t qualify for need-based aid, the FAFSA could help you get scholarships from private organizations or merit aid from your school.

Schools and states have their own financial aid deadlines, which are often earlier than the federal deadline of June 30, 2019, for the 2018-19 application.

Don’t forget that the FAFSA can help you get aid no matter your family’s income. Even if you think you won’t qualify for need-based aid like the Pell Grant, the FAFSA could help you get scholarships from private organizations or merit aid from your school.

“Even if a student is not eligible for federal or state grant funding, the FAFSA may be used for institutional aid,” says Mol, referring to funds that come directly from a college or university.

If you’ve forgotten how to fill out the FAFSA (or blocked it out; we don’t blame you), use NerdWallet’s free resources and tools to remind you.

More from NerdWallet on the FAFSA

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