How to File Your FAFSA Renewal in 6 Simple Steps

Returning college students must file a FAFSA each year to receive student aid

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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 thing, however. Students must renew each school year to re-establish their need and eligibility for student aid.

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 pre-filled in what’s known as your Renewal FAFSA. Here’s the process you should follow for the upcoming school year.

1. File Early

The FAFSA application period opens on October 1 for the school year starting the following year, and 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 aid from the federal government, your college, state and local governments, and private scholarships or lenders.

Filing your FAFSA early ensures you meet the various filing deadlines for these different forms of aid. Much of this aid is granted on a first-come, first-served basis, so getting in early betters your chances of getting funds while they're still available. Officially, 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 FSA ID, 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. This is useful because it allows your parents to access and complete their portions of the FAFSA without knowing your FSA ID.

3. Review Your Pre-Filled FAFSA

Since you’ve already filed a FAFSA, the system will pre-populate much of the new FAFSA with the same information. It’s important not to rush. Take time to carefully review all pre-filled fields to ensure they are correct. Maybe you have moved or you need to change your status to independent because you got married or are now older than 24.

4. Update Financial Information

You’ll need to provide your gross income from your most recent tax return, either by entering it manually or importing it with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The FAFSA also asks you to report income that’s not taxed such as child support or retirement account contributions.

Next, you’ll need to report the current value of your assets. This includes cash, checkings accounts, or savings accounts but not any student aid funds you’ve already received. The Renewal FAFSA will also ask for an updated net worth of your investments (including college savings accounts), real estate holdings, and businesses.

5. Have Your Parents Do Their Portion

If you’re filing a FAFSA as an independent student, you can skip this step.

However, many undergraduate students are considered to be dependent students, which means that their student aid is calculated with the assumption that their parents are providing them with some monetary support.

Parents must review and update their demographic details such as marital status, household size, and state of residency. They’re also required to provide updated financial information on their own income and assets.

6. Sign and Submit

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 your current college as well as other colleges you’re considering. These FAFSA codes should be easy to find on a college’s website or through its financial aid office.

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 to Look For

The FAFSA renewal takes three to five days to process. You’ll then get an email with instructions on how to access your Student Aid Report, or SAR. The crucial number is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your college’s financial aid office will use this, 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.