The FAFSA should be completed as soon as possible — here’s how to fill out yours

Woman typing on laptop
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA for the 2023-24 academic year became available on October 1st. If you haven't already filled it out, you should do it now rather than later. While the filing deadline isn’t for a while — June 30th, 2024 to be exact — you shouldn’t wait that long to get your application completed. 

When you file your FAFSA can determine how much federal aid you receive, as some states only have limited funds and offer scholarships and grants on a first-come, first-served basis. So, if you drag your feet on submitting your FAFSA, these funds could run out before you apply. Your chances of receiving aid increase the earlier you submit your application.

How to fill out the FAFSA? 

Follow the below steps to properly complete your FAFSA application. 

Gather information 

Before filling out the FAFSA, it's important to gather all pertinent information beforehand to make filing as easy as possible.

Information needed for the application:

- Social Security numbers

- Drivers License or ID number

- Tax returns

- Financial records

Most often, you’ll need to include your parent’s personal information as well, unless you:

- Are active duty in the military or are a veteran

- Are married

- Have a child who you are supporting

- Have a legal guardian

- Have been in foster care since you were 13

- Are homeless 

Once you've gathered all the information you'll need, you can start the FAFSA application by going to

Get an FSA ID 

This takes about ten minutes to complete and is required to complete your FAFSA. Your FSA ID will be the credentials you use to electronically sign your FAFSA. For first time users, you’ll be able to immediately use your ID and begin signing. However, if you’re a returning user, you’ll have to wait one to three days to verify your ID. If you require parental information on your FAFSA account, they’ll need their own FSA ID as well. 

Fill out application 

Once you’ve created/verified your FSA ID, you’ll then be able to fill out the FAFSA. After confirming the dates in which you’ll need aid, you’ll then be able to fill out the student demographics section. This is where you’ll enter in personal information, like Social Security number and date of birth.

After this, you’ll enter in the list of schools you’re considering attending, up to 10. Even if you haven’t applied or been accepted to those schools, you still should send over your FAFSA information regardless. Plus, if you change your mind about a certain school, you can make always make changes to this list later. 

Next comes the dependency status questions. Basically, this section will determine whether or not you require parental information on your form.

If parental information is required, the parents demographic section will come next. Here they will add in their required information, like Social Security number, address, etc.

Financial information is the next section to fill out when completing the FAFSA. The easiest way to complete this section is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which will allow you to export your information into the FAFSA automatically. If this isn’t possible, however, you can enter it manually. Income should be reported for both parents and student, if applicable. If any financial changes occur, such as the loss of a job, after you've submitted, you should update your FAFSA with this new information to better reflect your current financial status. 

Sign off with FSA ID 

Once you’ve completed and reviewed all sections for accuracy, sign-off on the FAFSA by using your FSA ID.  

Bottom Line

It's better to get a head-start on the FAFSA and file now before funds start running out. You don’t want to get stuck without student aid or scholarships simply because you waited until the deadline to apply. Additionally, if this is your first time filling out the form, it may take a while to complete all sections, so it's better to give yourself ample time to get it done. 

Erin Bendig
Staff writer, personal finance

Erin pairs personal experience with research and is passionate about sharing personal finance advice with others. Previously, she was a freelancer focusing on the credit card side of finance, but has branched out since then to cover other aspects of personal finance. Erin is well-versed in traditional media with reporting, interviewing and research, as well as using graphic design and video and audio storytelling to share with her readers.