It’s true—the FAFSA financial aid form has changed—as of December 31st, 2023. This article has been carefully designed to cut to the chase and give you only the information you need to increase the amount of financial aid your student eventually receives.
If you’re filling out the FAFSA this week, here’s a list of everything you’ll need with you as you do so.
If you’re a parent of a student as young as age 14 or as old as a grad school or medical school student (or if you’re a professional who serves parents and students), print out this article and circle all the items that apply to you.
If you read this article and find yourself wishing you could change the FAFSA form you already filled out in 2024, no problem—you can do that here.
Here’s what you need to know to get the most possible aid out of the new FAFSA form.
1. Filling out the FAFSA form is FREE, and it’s the first step to getting your kid free money to help pay for college and best possible loan terms if loans are needed.
This is true even if you have a very high income. See my must-read article: 7 Reasons to Fill Out FAFSA Even if You’re Rich.
If you fail to fill out the FAFSA, you may leave thousands of dollars on the table.
2. Fill out the FAFSA every October 1st that there’s even the tiniest chance you might have a kid in college or technical school the following fall.
You’ll put yourself right in the front of the line—and give yourself the best possible chance of getting all the financial aid money you have coming to you.
Can’t do it October 1st? Do it as early in October as you possibly can.
This date is different for you if you’ll have a kid in college between June of 2024 and June of 2025. Is there even a chance you’ll have a kid in college during that 12-month period? If so, your circumstances are special—for this year only.
Your earliest FAFSA completion date was December 31st, 2023 (due to FAFSA changes occurring at the US Department of Education). You can go online and fill out the FAFSA form now at this link: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa.
Note that for this year only, colleges and universities will not receive completed FAFSA forms until late January of 2024. These institutions of higher education will then need multiple weeks to load the new FAFSA data, test systems, and begin to generate financial aid offers. This means that financial aid offers will reach students and parents in mid- to late-February at the earliest.
Students and families will then have about 60 days—March 1st, 2024 to April 30th, 2024—to compare financial aid offers from each of the colleges students have applied to—and make decisions about where students will attend the following fall. (May 1st is typically “National College Decision Day”—the date college applicants notify colleges where they’ve chosen to attend the following fall.)
One other detail you need to know: Between now and June 30th, 2024, in a number of states, filling out the FAFSA form will not automatically put students in line for the free money state aid they should have coming to them. Students and families completing the FAFSA during that window of time will need to apply for free money state aid separately. To determine how to apply for free money from your state, google the name of your state along with the words “department of education phone number.” Call that number and ask, “How exactly do we apply for free money state aid for a college student attending college in the fall of 2024? We’ve heard that in many states, the FAFSA form is not automatically taking care of that this year.”
Note that the information in green type above is only for parents who’ll have one or more kids in college between June of 2024 and June of 2025.
Subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter now and I’ll keep you updated on changes to this timeline.
3. The new version of the FAFSA severely disadvantages families who have multiple kids in college at the same time.
I’m so sorry.
There is nothing you can do to change this. What you can do is make sure you fill out the FAFSA form anyway. Promise me you will.
As you do, hang on to this hope: I have a lot of great strategies that help all families save massive amounts of money on college costs—without scholarships and without financial aid. So this bad news doesn’t have to sink you. I’ll continue to guide you to all the best debt-free college strategies through my book, my free weekly email newsletter, and in the biggest ways in my TRIBE Membership.
4. If divorce is a part of your family story, you may have heard that at one time, the financial aid system considered only the household income of the parent the child lived with the most.
In the past, this gave us a great loophole. Students could live with the parent who had the lower household income, and the higher household income parent could leave bags of groceries on the doorstep to help out. Sadly, this loophole is no longer available to us. The new FAFSA considers the combined household income of the divorced parent who provided the most financial support for the child—regardless of where the child lives.
And if that supporting parent is remarried? The new stepparent’s income is brought into financial aid calculations as well. Prenuptial agreements can’t help with this, since an agreement between two individuals can’t be binding on a third party such as the federal government.
So—are there any ways left at all for divorced parents to get more free money for college?
What about low-income single parents whose wealthy former spouses grudgingly pay their court-ordered child support, but flatly refuse to help with any college costs? Is there any hope for the parent left alone struggling to cover everything for the kids throughout high school and college?
For this parent, there’s one thing that can be done. If this is you, you might think about doing what Carol did.
Carol had a low household income and was receiving child support. One day she looked at her finances and realized—when she counted up everything she was providing for her son starting January 1st of his 10th-grade year (including the home she provided for him, his health insurance, the vehicle he drove to school, and every other kid expense), she was actually supplying more support for the boy than the wealthy father was (despite the dad’s regular child support payments). Carol said to herself, “I am providing the most support for this boy—so I’ll be the parent whose information goes on the FAFSA form, and my lower income will help us get more free money to help pay for college.”
Is this a fair situation for Carol? No, it’s not. But I can tell you that Carol was greatly relieved when she was able to take the situation she was stuck with, and turn it into more free money to help pay for college.
(If you don’t know why the January 1st of 10th-grade date is so critically important, you need to join my TRIBE Membership as soon as possible.)
5. The new FAFSA strips away protections for families who own small businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees, as well as protections for families who reside on family farms.
I am so sorry.
It used to be that when families owned small businesses or family farms, the value of these small businesses and farms didn’t count when the financial aid system estimated family wealth and ability to pay for college. After all—the rationale was—you’re not about to sell your small business or your family farm to pay for your kids’ college, right? We don’t want you to! Your small business or your family farm is part of the backbone of the American economy!
Sadly, the small business and family farm exclusions have now disappeared. If you’ve read Chapter 10 of my book, please disregard two of my ideas there: the ones about 1) maximizing the small business exclusion and 2) setting up your second home or rental property as a formally recognized small business. These ideas no longer work. (The new version of my book will have updated information on this when it comes out.)
All this said, please—business owners and farmers—take heart. Don’t sell the business or the family farm. I can help you use other strategies that still work very well for reducing college costs. View one free, fast-paced 10-minute video here, and I’ll get you started.
6. The new FAFSA system doesn’t use the term “Estimated Family Contribution” (EFC).
The new term is “Student Aid Index” (SAI). If you read an article that mentions “EFC,” that source is very likely giving you outdated FAFSA information. Look elsewhere for help.
7. Good news! “Support for the child” or “other money paid on a student’s behalf” no longer counts as student income, and so will no longer reduce financial aid awards.
This ruling has been officially finalized at the federal level.
So if Grandma wants to pay for summer camp or buy Joey some basketball shoes, or if Uncle Peter wants to call the college bursar’s office and pay some of your daughter’s college tuition bill—that can be done at any time and it won’t in any way diminish future financial aid awards.
8. The FAFSA form has changed its definition of “family size.”
Large families get more financial aid to help pay for college. Why? Because family income has to stretch to feed and clothe more people.
It used to be that lots of different people could count as family members, including stepchildren who lived hundreds of miles away. Now, though, family size is limited to the number you get when you count up the student, the student’s spouse (if any), the parent or parents the student lives with (stepparents included), and dependents officially counted on federal income tax returns.
Nobody else counts.
If one parent informally separates from the family by moving out of the house, that parent still counts in family size. But if that parent moves out and files for legal separation, that reduces family size.
And if a student lives with two parents who aren’t married to each other? Those parents are both counted as though they are married.
9. The new FAFSA asks no questions about drug convictions—and incarcerated students (as well as those on parole or probation) can now apply for and get financial aid using the special instructions here.
So if your kids have made some mistakes in life, there’s still hope for attending college and getting it paid for.
10. If a lower income has qualified your family for SSI, SNAP, TANF, WIC, Medicaid, or Federal Housing Assistance in the past 2 years, report that when asked. It’ll help you get more free money for college.
(Sadly, getting Free and Reduced Price School Lunch no longer helps you get more free money for college. I’m sorry.)
11. In the few days before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA form, you might want to shift some money around.
Remember, on the day you fill out the FAFSA form, any extra cash that you or your college-bound child have sitting around in checking or savings accounts—or in brokerage accounts, trust funds, UGMA and UTMA accounts, certificates of deposit, money market funds, stocks, cash stuffed in a mattress, mutual funds, stock options, bonds, or in other securities or commodities will be reported as assets on the FAFSA, and will diminish future financial aid awards. As financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz says, “The intended use of the money does not matter. Money that is not in a qualified retirement plan is reported as an asset on the FAFSA, even if it is intended for retirement and even if the account owner is already retired.”
Wow. What can you do about this?
You might consider quickly using that extra cash to 1) pay down some debts, 2) pre-pay for needed home improvements, or 3) fatten up retirement savings—since qualified retirement savings plans including 401(k), Roth 401(k), 403(b), IRA, Roth IRA, SEP, SIMPLE, Keogh, profit sharing, pension plans, and qualified annuities are not seen or considered by any financial aid application process.
Just be aware of two important things if you’re thinking of shifting some money around prior to filling out the FAFSA:
First, always preserve an easily accessible pool of money for yourself as an emergency fund just in case (as Dave Ramsey’s daughter Rachel Cruz says), “you crack a tooth on a popcorn kernel, feel the AC go out in the middle of summer, or even lose your job—you won’t worry about how to cover the bills.” Learn how much you’ll need for a healthy emergency fund here.
Second, if you move around any assets at the last minute, do as Mark Kantrowitz advises: “…document the change by printing out the asset value from the account’s website. Otherwise, the asset value will be based on the most recent account statement.”
And please remember, do not include the value of the home you live in on the FAFSA form.
Do you now wish you could change the FAFSA form you already filled out in 2024? No problem—you can do that here.
12. Tell students this: “When signing up for college classes in the future, be constantly aware of how many credits you need to be a full-time student.”
If your daughter is given financial aid money based on her being a full-time student and she falls below that minimum number of credits, she may suddenly lose her financial aid award and get a scary-looking bill marked DUE NOW.
There is some financial aid available to students who have no choice but to attend college part-time—but your daughter’s most cost-effective strategy will be to consistently be a full-time student and take the maximum number of credits she can each semester. (She can still work part-time as she does this—so no worries about that!)
I cover this in thorough detail in the first class parents take inside my TRIBE Membership.
13. The link you’ll need to access the official FAFSA form has changed.
This is shaking up parents who are worried that they might accidentally land on a scam FAFSA website. (You can’t blame people for worrying about this—I’ve warned about this a lot!)
Here’s the correct link you’ll need for filling out the new FAFSA in 2024 and after: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa.
14. With all the chaos and confusion surrounding the new FAFSA, your best bet for getting maximum amounts of free college money is this.
Be 100% sure to fill out the FAFSA form when it’s time to do that. (See #2 above for a reminder of precisely when to do that.)
Then, the following winter to early spring, appeal your child’s financial aid award.
Essentially, what you’ll do is call the financial aid offices at the colleges where your child has been accepted and has received financial aid award letters, and ask each one for a “professional judgment review.” This is where you’ll get to provide the full picture of your individual family financial story to a human being, including how COVID-19 affected your finances, how having multiple kids in college at once is straining you to the breaking point, how close you are to retirement—no matter what age you are—and how devastating the lack of a federal asset protection allowance is going to be to you, and how you of course are not able to sell your business or your family farm to pay for college. A human may very well have mercy on you.
(My deepest empathy to college financial aid staff who are going to have a lot of people asking for these professional judgment reviews.)
Did you happen to see a poorly written government fact sheet on the FAFSA, and it has you bewildered?
Honestly, the info in that fact sheet is unlikely to get you more free money for college.
But if you’d like to see me explain that fact sheet clearly, I do that here.
The new FAFSA is striking like an earthquake that will have still unknown aftershocks.
I am able to see all the questions that will be asked on the new FAFSA, but what I don’t yet know is how financial aid offices will use the very limited info provided by the new FAFSA as they make their financial aid award decisions.
Many financial aid offices are reporting that they don’t even know how they’re going to use this very limited information.
I’ll be following new developments on this over the coming months—and relaying necessary new info to parents and professionals in my free weekly email newsletter and most thoroughly in my TRIBE Membership.
Don’t use the following outdated FAFSA resources.
Internet articles dated prior to 2021 are now out of date. This includes many still posted online by the US Department of Education—and even some that I wrote and you may have printed off and filed away.
For example, if you printed a downloadable document from me titled “30 Common FAFSA Mistakes and How to Avoid Them,” please tear that up and throw it away. Delete it from your computer. The info in that resource is no longer accurate.
I will be diligently, speedily removing from my website all my FAFSA articles that are no longer accurate following these new FAFSA changes. With 200 articles to go through, though, this is going to take me a little while!
So please—don’t read or share any of my FAFSA articles other than the one you’re reading right now and 7 Reasons to Fill Out FAFSA Even if You’re Rich. These two articles contain my most current FAFSA info. I’ll be updating these articles regularly throughout 2023 and going forward. You’ll personally stay most updated if you read my free weekly email newsletter every Monday morning.
I’m creating a new, updated 2nd edition of my book, LAUNCH. Until it comes out, keep on using the 1st edition.
Remember, FAFSA details make up just a very small portion of LAUNCH. I’m asking parents and professionals to read, embrace, and use all the non-FAFSA strategies I write about. You’re going to need these more now than ever.
As you read, be sure to check the free bonus book updates page on my website every time you finish reading a chapter. (You’re instructed to do this in every end-of-chapter checklist in the book, so I’m confident you’ll remember.)
The easiest way to do this is to go to JeannieBurlowski.com/LAUNCH and click where it says “To access the free bonus book updates, click here.”
It’s true that some student loan debt has been forgiven—but your kid’s will probably not be.
It’s not sustainable for the U.S. to keep running up massive amounts of national student loan debt—and then forgiving relatively small chunks of it here and there. You as a parent (or a professional) need strategies that’ll keep the kids you love from running up student loan debt in the first place.
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It’s our goal to help as many families as possible. Copy this entire article and paste it right into your school, business, or homeschool newsletter. Put a link to it in your Facebook group! Just include the words “By Jeannie Burlowski.”
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For clear, step-by-step help getting your kids through college debt-free and into jobs they love afterward, get your copy of my book:
It’s a reference book, so nobody reads the whole thing cover to cover. Pick out what you need to read in it using the fast-paced, 10-minute video instructions here.
You can see hundreds of reviews of this book on Amazon by going to:
You can see why financial advising professionals love LAUNCH, here.
You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCH, here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
Take a step on this right now. Get regular, inspiring help from me—every Monday morning.
Subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter here. (You’ll especially want to do this so I can alert you to important FAFSA changes that will affect you in the future.)
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26, their parents, and the professionals who serve them. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free, ready to jump directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazine, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.
This post was updated on January 20th, 2024. No part of this article was written using AI. This article is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein constitutes tax or investment advice.