The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a powerful tool that helps millions of students each year get access to not only federal assistance, but many other forms of aid to pay for college. Filing a FAFSA isn’t just a one-time move, however. Students must file a FAFSA renewal each school year to re-establish their need and eligibility for student aid.
Renew Your FAFSA in 6 Simple Steps
Fortunately, filing a FAFSA renewal is easier and faster than completing the form for the first time. Some of the information you provided on the previous year’s FAFSA is carried forward and prefilled in what’s known as your Renewal FAFSA. Here’s the process you should follow to file your Renewal FAFSA for the upcoming school year and re-establish your eligibility for student aid.
1. File Your Renewal FAFSA Early
The FAFSA application period opens on October 1 for the school year starting the following year. The applications for the 2021-22 school year, for example, opened Oct. 1, 2020.
Submitting your application early can mean more student aid from any number of sources that rely on your FAFSA. Your college uses your FAFSA calculations to put together a package that can include not just federal aid, but also funding from your college, state, and local governments, and private scholarships or lenders.
Filing your FAFSA early ensures you meet the various filing deadlines for different forms of aid. Much of this aid is granted on a first-come, first-served basis (and funds sometimes run out), so getting in early improves your chances of receiving aid while funds are still available. Officially, however, you can submit a FAFSA as late as June 30 of the school year you’ve just finished.
2. Sign Into Your FSA Account
To start the process of filing a Renewal FAFSA, you can visit studentaid.ed.gov and log in as a returning user. You’ll need your unique login details, including your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID and password, which you created the first time you filed a FAFSA.
Once you’ve logged in, you must create a save key, a password that lets you come back to your application later without having to log into your FSA account. You can share this with your parents instead of your FSA ID (which acts as a legal signature) so they can access and complete their portions of the FAFSA.
3. Review and Update Your Prefilled FAFSA
Since you’ve already filed a FAFSA, you can choose to pre-populate much of the Renewal FAFSA with the same information. It’s important not to rush. Take time to carefully review all prefilled fields to ensure they are correct, and update information as needed. Maybe you have moved or need to change your status to independent because you got married or are now older than 24.
4. Update Income and Financial Information
Financial information is not prefilled on the Renewal FAFSA, so you may need to provide any requested financial details, such as income information from the tax return two years prior from the start of the school year for which you're requesting aid. The 2020-21 FAFSA uses information from the 2018 tax year, for example, and the 2021-22 will ask for your 2019 tax information. You may also be asked to provide details about assets, such as your savings and checking account balances.
The FAFSA uses the tax return filed for the year two years prior to the start of the school year for which you’re requesting aid.
5. Have Your Parent Complete Their Portion of the FAFSA
If you’re filing a FAFSA as an independent student, you can skip this step.
However, many undergraduate students are considered dependent students, which means that their student aid is calculated with the assumption that their parents are providing them with monetary support.
One parent must create an FSA ID and use the save key to access your Renewal FAFSA. They will review and update their demographic details such as marital status, household size, and state of residency. They also may need to provide updated financial information on income or assets, and add or import their tax information as prompted by the FAFSA. Lastly, they must electronically sign your FAFSA.
6. Sign and Submit Your Renewal FAFSA
One of the last steps is to provide the FAFSA code for your college, so your application information will be shared with your school. If you’re thinking about transferring, make sure to include the codes for both your current college and other colleges you’re considering. You can find these FAFSA codes on the college’s website or through the FAFSA Federal School Code Search tool.
The final step is to electronically sign and date your FAFSA. (Dependent students must have the parent that completed the form sign too.) You can then submit your Renewal FAFSA and celebrate—you did it!
What Happens After Submitting a FAFSA Renewal?
After submitting your Renewal FAFSA, its status should update to say it’s processing (you can log into your Fafsa.gov account for real-time status updates). The FAFSA renewal takes three to five days to process. You’ll be notified if your FAFSA is missing a signature or requires additional action to be processed.
You’ll get an email prompting you to review your Student Aid Report, or SAR, three days to three weeks after submitting your FAFSA. This is a report from the Federal Student Aid Office that sums up your FAFSA data and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
Your college’s financial aid office will use your EFC, along with your Cost of Attendance (COA), to put together an offer of student aid that may include several kinds of assistance.
Look carefully at your aid package to determine which components of the aid package you want. Generally, you should take free money (scholarships and grants) first, then earned money (work-study), and then borrowed money (federal student loans).
College is expensive, so tackle your Renewal FAFSA early to maximize all of the resources at your disposal.