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FAFSA = Financial Aid = Money for College

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Or Why you need to file a FAFSA

College affordability is a parent’s number one concern. The FAFSA or the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid strikes fear and trepidation in the hearts of all, but it doesn’t have to. Let’s face it, college is expensive, but it is worth the investment.

Numerous studies show that college graduates earn more money and have lower unemployment rates than high school graduates. Unless you are independently wealthy, realize that everybody, even wealthy folks struggle to pay for college. HOWEVER, there are numerous sources of funding and money to help make college more affordable. The FAFSA is the key to the door.

In any given year, there are more than $248 billion dollars’ worth of student financial aid available to help pay for college. Two thirds of it, $165 billion is from the federal government (with $96 billion in low interest federal education loans, and $70 billion in scholarships and grants, aka “free, no-strings-attached money”); $10 billion from state governments; $49 billion from universities and colleges; and $24 billion from private sources including scholarships, work-study, education tax benefits, and private loans.

Relax, you do not need to complete the FAFSA at one time, you can save the application and make changes and additions until you are ready to file it. Once it is filed, you can make corrections or updates up to a specified deadline.

All federal and state aid, as well as the vast majority of public and private college aid, and access to low cost federal loans are based on the FAFSA. Did you know that some schools require a FAFSA filing before awarding merit aid? Did you know that failing to file a FAFSA means you can't apply for federal student or parent aid in later years? The conclusion, even if do you not think that you qualify for financial aid, you SHOULD take the time and file this free application.

If your student receives financial aid, you will have to file the FAFSA every year they are in college. If your student receives merit aid only, check with the school, most schools will not require you to file the FAFSA after the first year.

There are numerous sources of FREE FAFSA help either directly from the government or other sources.

When filling out the FAFSA on-line, there are:

Non-government sources:

Here are the basics that you need to know:

  • FAFSA filing period for students starting college in the fall after senior year is from October 1 through June 30. E.g. students applying for freshman year starting 2025, can apply from Oct. 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025. NOTE, in 2023 the FAFSA filing period has been delayed to "before December 31, 2023)

  • In California, the state deadline is March 2. This is for all California state Cal Grants and state aid

  • Each school has its own deadline for filing. The UC deadline is March 2; at many private schools, the deadline is in February or March. If you are applying for early action or early decision, check to see if there is an earlier deadline

  • Because funding is awarded as long as funds are available FILE AS SOON AFTER APPLICATIONS OPEN AS POSSIBLE! The date on the application will be noted by the college, so that when they receive your college application they know when you filed your financial documents.

  • For both the FAFSA and CSS:Profile, you will use prior-prior year taxes. For a student starting college in 2024, taxes from 2022 will be used. You will use income information from the time period when you are filling in the form. You will use the cash or savings account balance as of the date you file.

  • If you file electronically, you may be able to link the FAFSA to your tax filing to have information added automatically.

  • Students and parents each need to create a separate FAFSA user name and password to use as an FSA ID.

  • The FAFSA does not ask about the value of your house or your retirement accounts.

  • Documents needed for filing include:

    1. Social security cards and driver’s license for student and parents

    2. Most recent tax income returns, W-2s, 1099s, and other records of money earned the previous year (i.e. 2022 earnings for the FAFSA filing in 2023). If you have not completed your 2022 taxes, use the ones from 2021 to make your best estimates. If you have not received the W-2s, then make your best estimate, or wait until you do receive them if your earnings have changed significantly

    3. Records of any untaxed income: welfare, Social Security, child support, or scholarships reported to the IRS

    4. Current banking and non-retirement investments statements

    5. Records or documents about unusual family financial circumstances including unreimbursed medical or dental expenses, unusually high dependent care costs (e.g. special needs child or elderly parent), death, divorce, salary reductions, job loss, retirement

Okay, it seems like a lot to do and it seems absolutely overwhelming. If you take the application one question at a time and use the help resources, you can complete the FAFSA. Give it a try!


For the 2024-2025 college year, file the FAFSA soon after it has become available. In normal years without a delay, filing by the end of December at the latest is recommended.

Gather your tax, income, savings and non-retirement account information, along with Social Security and Driver’s License

Go to: to get your FAFSA ID and fill out the application on-line

If haven't completed your prior-prior year taxes, make your best estimate about income, you can make corrections and changes after you file

Be truthful

Check out free information sources. If you need help, ask, don't guess

Take a deep breath, you can do it!

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