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Are There Any Fees for Filing the FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

June 27, 2011

Is there a fee to complete the FAFSA and if so, how much? — T. Smith

There is no fee to file the FAFSA. As the name suggests, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a free application. You can file the FAFSA online for free at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Section 483(a)(6) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 bans the charging of a fee for the collection, processing or delivery of financial aid through the use of the FAFSA form. However, section 483(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 permits the use of paid preparers to complete the form, provided that the paid preparer clearly informs the applicant that the FAFSA is a free form that may be completed without professional assistance. Paid preparers must include a link to the www.fafsa.ed.gov web site from their web sites. Paid preparers must also include a clear and conspicuous statement that the FAFSA is a free form that may be completed without professional assistance in all advertising for their services.

Most families will not need to use a paid preparer because there are numerous sources of free help for completing the FAFSA. The FinAid site includes information about the FAFSA at www.finaid.org/fafsa, including a list of the most common errors people make. Fastweb also has a section about the FAFSA at www.fastweb.com/content/fafsa, along with dozens of Ask Kantro columns that respond to questions about the FAFSA. The US Department of Education sponsors a toll free hotline, 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), that families may use to ask questions about completing the FAFSA. (Applicants located outside the United States may call 1-319-337-5665. Hearing impaired TTY users can call 1-800-730-8913.) The US Department of Education also publishes a free booklet, Completing the FAFSA, in English and Spanish, which explains the purpose of each question and discusses some of the more common unusual situations. You can also get free one-on-one help completing the FAFSA through College Goal Sunday, which is sponsored by the YMCA and the Lumina Foundation. Finally, you can talk to the financial aid administrator at the college you are attending or plan on attending.

The online FAFSA form is much easier to complete than in the past because of ongoing efforts to simplify the FAFSA. For example, the online FAFSA now includes skip logic that will omit unnecessary and irrelevant questions, depending on the applicant’s individual circumstances. The online FAFSA also includes built-in edit checks and other tools to catch and correct common errors.

The online FAFSA can also prefill the form with IRS income tax return data if the data is available and the applicant chooses this option. However, you should not wait until you’ve filed your federal income tax returns to complete the FAFSA, as the FAFSA must be submitted sooner than your income tax returns. The FAFSA should be completed as soon as possible after January 1 because many states and colleges have very early deadlines for awarding their own grants, some as early as February. At least five states now award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out. Some colleges have two deadlines for their own grants, a prefered deadline and a regular deadline, and the pool of financial aid funding is larger for students who apply for financial aid earlier. Thus, filing the FAFSA sooner may help you qualify for more financial aid.

Instead of waiting until your tax returns are ready, you should estimate your income and tax liability based on information from your W-2 and 1099 statements and the last pay stubs of the year. It is also helpful to look at the previous year’s income tax returns to make sure you haven’t forgotten an important source of income, such as interest, dividends, rents or royalties. It is ok to estimate your income based on this information, since you will have an opportunity to correct any errors later, after you’ve filed your federal income tax returns. But try to estimate the income figures as accurately as possible, since errors in income can have a big impact on the initial financial aid figures, making it more difficult to plan for college costs.

Most paid preparation services will not save you any time because you must still provide them with the information they need to complete the FAFSA. They can also be very expensive, charging you hundreds or even thousands of dollars to complete a form that you could easily complete on your own.


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