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Your Starting Point: The FAFSA

It’s a mouthful, but important. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an online form required by U.S. colleges and universities to determine your eligibility for need-based financial aid.

Every student and family should complete a FAFSA.

Even if you assume your family won’t get any “free money,” in the form of scholarships or grants, you must complete a FAFSA in order to apply for a Federal Student Loan. Many schools also require the FAFSA to be completed before the can offer their own award package.

There's no income cutoff to qualify for federal student aid. So apply! Your eligibility will be determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents' income or your savings alone.

FAFSA FAQs

Q: Why do I have to fill out a FAFSA?  

A: The FAFSA is how you apply for loans and grants from your federal and state governments. Most schools require you to fill out the FAFSA to ensure you receive the institutional aid you are eligible for, as well.

Q: What’s the deadline?

A: You can complete a FAFSA between October 1st and June 30th the year prior to enrollment. For example, you should fill out the FAFSA during the 2017-2018 year to apply for aid for the 2018-2019 school year. Additionally, some funds are available first-come, first-served (for example: federal work-study programs), so you'll want to fill yours out asap. Each college or university has a FAFSA priority deadline. Research your perspective college or university online or check with the financial aid office to see the school's priority FAFSA deadline. The FAFSA for the 2018-2019 Academic year can be submitted as early as October 1, 2017. Use your or your family's income from the 2016 calendar year.

Check out this article to learn more.

Q: What is a FSA ID? Where can I find mine?  

A: The FSA ID is a Federal Student Aid Identification login. You will use this username and password to access your FAFSA application, student loan balance, and other financial aid tools. This will stick with you throughout your education, so be sure to keep this login in a safe spot. Retrieving lost or forgotten FSA IDs is a complicated process, here is a resource to help if you've forgotten your FSA ID.

Q: Do I do the FAFSA every year?  

A: Yes, the FAFSA needs to be filled out yearly. If you completed a FAFSA last year, you can choose to submit a Renewal FAFSA that might pre-fill a few of the fields. This option might save your family time and effort.

Q: I don't qualify for grants, why would I still fill out the FAFSA?  

A: The FAFSA does more than determine financial need for grants. The FAFSA helps schools determine a financial aid package for your student, it qualifies your student for federal loans, and it can open doors to some other payment options such as work study. Every family should fill out the FAFSA, regardless of parental income. Federal loans usually have the lowest interest rates, the best repayment options, and forgiveness and cancellation options not offered by private lenders.

Q: Should my family take out a Parent PLUS loan?  

A: Parent PLUS loans are usually packed as part of a student's "financial aid". These are loans in the parent's name where the parent is responsible for repayment. Parent PLUS loans usually have the highest interest rate and most fees of all federal loans. The parent can choose to accept or reject the loan offer. Private loans usually fill the gap to fund a student's education if a parent does not choose to accept the Parent PLUS loan. Learn more about the differences between Parent PLUS loans and private loans here.

Q: What is EFC?  

A: EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution. The FAFSA calculates this number based on the information your family provides, excluding things like retirement accounts. This number is how much the FAFSA calculates that your family can contribute to your education. Use our Expected Family Contribution Calculator to help you plan for your FAFSA estimate.

Note: Meeting with a Thrivent Scholar Advisor may help your family get a more accurate EFC. Having your finances in the appropriate financial vehicles (ex: retirement savings in a 401k or an IRA instead of a savings account) will help the FAFSA accurately assess your family's ability to contribute to your student's education.

Q: What is a 529 plan?  

A: A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to incentivize saving for college costs. This type of plan is sponsored by states and can change depending on which state you live in. A 529 plan could be part of a parent or a grandparent's financial portfolio. Use this tool to help further understand how a 529 could help your family pay for college.

Q: Is there a resource if I'm stuck filling out the FAFSA?  

A: Yes, there are many resources available if you have questions about filling out the FAFSA. The federal government has done a great job of providing step-by-step guides during this process. Your school's financial aid administrator (both high school and the college of your choice) also are willing to help. Want more information before you start? Check out the Pre-Application Resources offered by the FAFSA.

Q: Why didn't I get as much aid as I thought I would?  

A: There are a few reasons why you feel that you didn't get the financial aid you were expecting. Though we can offer you a few answers, your college's financial aid offer would be the best person to answer this question. If your family waited awhile to submit the FAFSA, it is possible that your school offers aid in a first-come first-served system and filled their bucket of expected students in a certain area (high GPA, out of state, etc.).

Apply Online

Ready to get started? Visit FAFSA.gov to begin your application.

Other questions? Other question? Reach a A Thrivent Student Financing expert 


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