After a three-month delay, the FAFSA for the 2024-25 academic year opened a “soft launch” with limited hours that frustrated students and families eager to complete the form and be first in line for financial aid.
Just when it seemed some of the major bugs were getting ironed out and the Department of Education was able to open the form around the clock, the Department acknowledged Tuesday that $1.8 billion in federal student aid was at risk of being lost if it didn’t correct its formula to calculate eligibility to account for the past couple of year’s soaring inflation. So, without detailing how or when it would correct the issue, it said it would.
“Adjusting these inflationary numbers is the right thing to do, and should have been done from the beginning,” Justin Draeger, president of nonprofit advocate National Association of Student Financial Aid Administration, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, because the Department is making these updates so late in the financial aid processing cycle, students will now pay the price in the form of additional delays in financial aid offers and compressed decision-making timelines.”
All of this makes the steps you take even more important to get everything right the first and hopefully, only time. You want to avoid questions or corrections later that could further delay your award.
Here are some common problems experts say they’ve seen and how to avoid them:
Tips to avoid common issues with the new FAFSA
◾ Students can’t sign the FAFSA before sending it to their parents: “This is common because the student is not scrolling to the bottom of the page to see the 'Continue' button,” said Bethany Hubert, financial aid specialist with Going Merry by Earnest. "Ensure you scroll to the bottom, press continue, and electronically sign your FAFSA.”
◾ Errors on the question regarding Dependency Status: When asked, “Are the student’s parents unwilling to provide their information, but the student doesn’t have an unusual circumstance that prevents them from contacting or obtaining their parents’ information?" Most students need to answer “No” to this question, as their parents will be willing to contribute to their FAFSA, Hubert said. When a student answers “Yes,” this makes the student eligible only for Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans, which are not need-based, she said.
◾ No application for state financial aid: Students in Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont need to file the state aid application separately from the FAFSA. Previously, filing the FAFSA would make you automatically eligible for state financial aid programs. This function is expected to return next year.
◾ Inflation adjustments: The Department of Education acknowledges it failed to account for the past few years’ soaring inflation in income levels used to calculate aid eligibility, but it’s fixing it. No one knows how or when but it’s “unfortunately, another setback in the 2024-2025 FAFSA that will likely increase delays and frustration,” Hubert said. All you can do is enter your information correctly and wait.
Still feeling stressed out?
The tips don’t cover everything that could go wrong, but Hubert says don’t worry. Here’s her advice:
◾ Be patient.
◾ Reach out to the financial aid office to let them know your concerns.
◾ Prepare an appeal letter: If your initial offer falls short, be ready to reach out to the financial aid office to inquire about the financial aid appeals process. Sites like Going Merry provide a helpful appeal letter template that can guide students in crafting an effective appeal, which could significantly boost your financial aid package, she said.
◾ Consult your high school counselor for valuable insights and guidance tailored to your situation.
◾ Consider lower-cost options, including community colleges, online courses, or alternatives that can provide quality education without the same financial burden.
◾ “Above all else – remember, you're not alone,” she said. “Many families are in a similar situation.”
Medora Lee is a money, markets and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at email@example.com and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FAFSA issues can be a real headache. Try these tips to de-stress