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
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
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
along with dozens of
Fastweb FAFSA section responds to questions about
. 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.
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.