College Financial Aid 101: Do You Renew Your FAFSA or Start a New One?

Confused on whether or not you should renew your previous FAFSA or complete a new application? Keep reading because we’re going to discuss when to renew and when to start a new one!

Image courtesy of ABC News.

If you’re applying to college, chances are you’re curious to know a little more about the possibility of financial aid. Afterall, the amount of financial aid you qualify for could help you determine which school you choose to attend. While not the only factor that goes into helping you pick a school, the amount of financial aid you receive can make a real impact. The financial  aid you qualify for can also change year to year, and so can your financial situation, even if you’re already attending a school. One of the best ways to ensure you’re on track to get financial aid is to complete a FAFSA form.

But how do you know whether you should renew each year or fill out a whole new application? You’ve come to the right place, because in this article we’re going to discuss:

  • What the FAFSA is and why you should apply
  • When to renew and when to fill out a new application
  • Important things to remember when renewing or filling out a new FAFSA form

What is the FAFSA?

What is the point of filling out the FAFSA form?

student completing a new fafsa
Filling out the FAFSA allows you to be considered for financial aid. Image courtesy of U.S. News.

Just a quick refresher for those of you who don’t know, the FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is used by students across the country to determine how much financial assistance (including loans, grants, scholarships, etc.) they qualify for. It is also used to help lay out what the expected family contribution (EFC) will be for the student each year. Many students rely on this application to get a better picture of the amount of financial aid they’ll receive each year--which is especially important when determining which school you’ll want to attend as a freshman. You can fill out the form online, but you’ll want to come prepared beforehand. If you’re going to fill out the FAFSA application, make sure you have:

  • Your social security number
  • Your parents’ social security number (if you’re applying as a dependent student, you’ll need to include their social security number so that they can also sign off on the application)
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Tax information (if you are a dependent student this includes your parents’ wage information from a W-2 or other form used to report wages to the government)
  • Any untaxed income
  • Information about your parents’ checking, savings, and investment portfolios

The FAFSA is completely free to fill out, which means there’s no reason not to do it each year! Once you’ve filled everything out, you (and your parent if you’re a dependent student) will need to sign the form and submit it by the deadline. We suggest you start filling out your FAFSA application as early as possible in order to receive the most amount of aid, but the federal deadline for all applications to be in is June 30th. If you’re also using the FAFSA to apply for state or school-specific aid, they may have their own deadlines, so make sure you’re aware of those as well.

Why You Should Always Apply for the FAFSA

Applying for the FAFSA is a great idea!

university admissions office
No matter what your financial situation, it’s a good idea to use the FAFSA to apply for financial aid. Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

No matter whether you’re applying for the FAFSA for the first time as an incoming freshman, or for the fourth time as a senior, you should apply for the FAFSA each year. Why? Well, because your situation can change from one year to the next, and those changes should be included into your yearly application for financial aid. If your parents have changed jobs and gotten a raise, or your parents have divorced since you last filled out your FAFSA (which will adjust the income reported), you’ll want this to be reflected in your FAFSA application. This may adjust the amount of student financial aid that you qualify for. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial assistance, you might be surprised at what you find you qualify for.

Remember, applying for the FAFSA doesn’t just mean student loans, it also means grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities! These are all potential ways you can receive financial aid for your undergraduate years. But how is the financial aid you qualify for calculated? The amount of aid in which you qualify for is based on a couple of factors:

  • What year you are in school
  • Whether you’re a full time or part time student
  • Your family’s expected family contribution (EFC)
  • Your school’s cost of attendance (COA)

The cost of attendance varies from school to school, but it consists of tuition, room and board, books, and supplies. This is then measured against what was reported on your FAFSA application for your parents’ income and assets. Whatever the difference is between your school’s cost of attendance and what your parents can reasonably contribute each year is the amount of financial aid you qualify for.

Because these numbers can change from year to year, it’s important to always complete your FAFSA form on time--even better if it’s done early! But how do you know whether or not to renew a FAFSA application or complete a new one?

When Do You Fill Out a New FAFSA?

When you should start a new FAFSA application

You should start a brand new FAFSA application either when it’s your first time applying for financial aid, or haven’t applied for student aid for the previous academic year. This typically happens when you’re still in high school preparing for your first year in college. However, if you’ve already started college without completing the FAFSA form, not to worry, you can still fill out a FAFSA for the next year. Remember, the FAFSA can be filled out for the next academic year starting on October 1st. You should always try to make it a priority to fill out the FAFSA for the first time as soon as you can, as colleges can check when you sent it in and may allocate aid based on a first come first served basis.

It’s important to keep in mind too that states and schools may have other deadlines in addition to the federal deadline for FAFSA forms of June 30th that will need to be met, so always double check those as well.

When Do You Renew Your FAFSA?

When you should renew your FAFSA instead of completing a new form

woman sitting at a laptop with tax documents completing fafsa
Only renew your FAFSA form if you’ve applied for financial aid the previous academic year. Image courtesy of

If you’ve already completed a FAFSA form in the past, no need to start a completely new application! Since you’ve already gone through the process once, you will have a PIN number that you used to sign it originally. This will allow you to follow the FAFSA renewal process instead. If you’ve completed the FAFSA for the prior academic year, you will qualify to renew your application.

Renewing your FAFSA application is a great way to save time, and ensure that all your financial information is accurate and up to date. When you renew, a lot of your information is already on the form that you entered last year, requiring you to only go into the sections where your information has changed. Adjust the information that has changed, and make sure everything else is still correct. Once you’re certain that everything looks as it should on the form, use your PIN to sign the application and submit it again. Just like the first time you submitted your FAFSA form, when you renew, be aware of the deadline of June 30th, and try to get your application in as early as possible.

Important Things to Remember with Your FAFSA

Keep these things in mind throughout your FAFSA process, whether you’re renewing or starting a new application

  • Renewal vs. new application. You will complete a new FAFSA application if you have not filled out the FAFSA form for the previous academic year. You will use your PIN number to renew your FAFSA form if you have previously completed and submitted a FAFSA form.
  • Have all your information ready. If completing a new FAFSA form, make sure to have social security numbers and income information ready when you’re ready to start the form. If you’re renewing, have your PIN on hand and any additional information that you need to add to the form.
  • Keep track of deadlines. It’s always best to get your FAFSA submitted early, that way you’re going to get the most financial aid that you qualify for.

It’s important to complete your FAFSA each year that you intend to apply for financial aid. If you’ve applied in the past academic year, remember you don’t have to start from scratch--simply renew your application. However, if you haven’t completed one in the past, you’ll have to start a new form. Regardless of which path you follow, make sure to have everything submitted as early as you can.

Bridget Houlihan
Bridget is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA.
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