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- You need to be a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen to qualify to submit the FAFSA.
- Even if you don't think you qualify for federal aid, it's still worth taking the time to apply.
- Depending on your age, you may be eligible as an independent. Independents can borrow more money.
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Students who need money to cover the cost of college may need financial aid to do so. The only way to find out if you qualify for financial assistance is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Even if you don't think you're eligible for federal aid, it's still worth taking the time to apply — which is about 30 minutes. You don't know what federal money is out there for you until you submit your application, and most colleges also use the FAFSA to determine institutional aid decisions.
You must fill out the FAFSA for each year you want to receive financial aid.
What are the basic FAFSA eligibility requirements?
You'll need to meet one of three benchmarks to qualify to fill out the FAFSA initially:
- Hold a high school diploma
- Have a General Education Development (GED) certificate
- Complete a high school education in a state-approved homeschool
You must also be enrolled in or accepted by an eligible school and pursuing a degree or certificate program at least half-time. You'll have to maintain satisfactory academic progress, as defined by your school, to retain your eligibility.
You'll also have to be a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen (including a US national or permanent resident) and have a valid Social Security number (unless you are from the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, or Palau). If you aren't sure if you qualify, check with your school's financial aid office or with the Federal Student Aid office for more information.
In the past, men between the ages of 18 to 25 were required to sign up for the Selective Service to be eligible for financial aid. Now, aid eligibility isn't tied to the Selective Service, but the option to sign up for the Selective Service remains on the FAFSA.
Why does your dependency status matter for financial aid?
Your age, race, and field of study don't factor into your financial aid eligibility decision, but your age may determine how much money you can take out. You qualify as an independent when filling out the FAFSA for the 2023-24 school year if you will be 24 by January 1, 2023. If you're an independent, you'll file the FAFSA using only your financial information, not your parents' information like you would as a dependent.
Dependent students can take out up to $31,000 overall in loans over their college career, with $23,000 of that total in subsidized loans. Independent students can take out up to $57,500 overall in loans over their college career, with $23,000 of that total in subsidized loans. The government covers the interest on subsidized loans until a six-month grace period after you graduate is over, while interest begins accruing immediately on unsubsidized loans.
You can find more detailed questions to determine if you're a dependent or independent student.
What else should you know about FAFSA qualifications?
To qualify for federal aid, you must certify on the FAFSA that you aren't in default on a federal student loan, you don't owe a refund on a federal student grant, and you'll use federal aid only for educational purposes.
Some aid, particularly grants or subsidized loans, will be based on financial need. Other aid, like unsubsidized or Direct PLUS Loans, will not. There aren't defined FAFSA income limits or cutoffs that determine eligibility for financial aid.
Even if you didn't you receive financial aid one year or got less than you wanted, it's important to apply for the FAFSA every year you're in school. The formula used to calculate aid changes periodically, as can your family's financial situation.
You don't have to accept all of the aid offered to you, and you should consider gift aid, like scholarships and grants, before loans.
How can you lose FAFSA eligibility?
You could lose eligibility for federal funding in following years if you:
- Fail to keep up satisfactory academic standards, as defined by your school, which could include a certain grade-point average or number of credit hours taken. This could disqualify you for grants and scholarships you had previously received
- Fail to submit the FAFSA for each year you want financial aid
- Default on a student loan
- Have your status as an eligible noncitizen revoked
Contact your school's financial aid office if you have additional questions about your eligibility for financial assistance.
Ryan Wangman is a reporter at Personal Finance Insider reporting on personal loans, student loans, student loan refinancing, debt consolidation, auto loans, RV loans, and boat loans. He is also a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF). In his past experience writing about personal finance, he has written about credit scores, financial literacy, and homeownership. He graduated from Northwestern University and has previously written for The Boston Globe. Learn more about how Personal Finance Insider chooses, rates, and covers financial products and services here
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