Common Problems with the New FAFSA and How to Solve Them

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The FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Simplification Act passed by congress required the US Department of Education to overhaul the FAFSA® form on or before December 31, 2023. This pushed back the 2024-2025 FAFSA® opening date to December 31, 2023.

When the new FAFSA® finally “soft launched” on Dec. 31, families reported many issues, glitches, and confusing errors. 

The Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has been working diligently to resolve many of these known issues, but in the meantime, we wanted to provide suggestions based on advice from FSA, NCAN (National College Attainment Network), NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Admissions), and many other financial aid professionals that are supporting students in their FAFSA® filings. 

Best practices for completing the new 2024-25 FAFSA® form

1. Complete the FAFSA all at once

Plan to complete the FAFSA® in one sitting for the best experience. Some of the known issues reported by the Department of Education since the soft launch period are related to students and/or parents stopping part way through their FAFSA®. When they return, many are finding that they have to reanswer questions or are unable to proceed to complete the FAFSA®. 

Tip: Ensure all contributors, all necessary documents, all FSA IDs, etc. are ready before starting the application. 

2. Create your FSA ID in advance

Students and parents should create their FSA ID at least 4 days in advance of attempting to complete the FAFSA®. Not sure who needs to create an FSA ID? Here’s how to find out! 

3. Start the FAFSA before inviting your parent(s)

The FAFSA® is a student application on which their parent(s) will provide financial information. Although either the parent or the student may start the FAFSA®, we recommend the student start the FAFSA® and invite the parent(s) for the best experience. 

Tip: Since the new FAFSA® rollout, families have reported that parents often do not receive the contributor invite email. If this happens to your family, have the parent log in to studenaid.gov using their FSA ID. They may find that they have access to begin their portion of the FAFSA® once they log in.

4. Don’t miss hidden parts of the form

Students are reporting that they are struggling to sign the FAFSA® before sending it to their parents. This is commonly because the student is not actually scrolling to the bottom of the page to see the “Continue” button. To sign the FAFSA®, please ensure you scroll to the bottom, press continue, and electronically sign your FAFSA®. See the screenshots below! 


Tip: Ensure that the student signs the FAFSA® before the parent contributor(s) begin, sign, or submit their section. We have heard of reports that some students were unable to log back in to sign after their parents.


5. Make sure you file all your state’s required forms

If you are in the following states, be aware that you will need to file your state aid application separately from the FAFSA®.

In previous years, filing the FAFSA® would make you automatically eligible for state financial aid programs, and it is expected that next year that functionality will return.  Please speak to your counselor or visit your state financial aid website for more information, and be mindful of state or college priority deadlines for financial aid. 

6. Review Dependency Status questions carefully   

Many students have reported making an error on the question regarding Dependency Status. The question first notifies the student that they were determined to be a dependent student based on the questions they had answered. 

They are then 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®. When a student answers “Yes”, this makes the student eligible only for Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans.
  • Tip: If you are a student and your parents are refusing to be a contributor on your FAFSA®, first reach out to your high school counselor, the financial aid office of the college you would like to attend, or Going Merry for support with explaining the importance of their contribution on the FAFSA®. If a student’s parent(s) fail to contribute to their FAFSA®, the student will only be able to receive Federal Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans

7. Answer questions about free or reduced lunch accurately

Many parent contributors have reported confusion regarding the question about federal benefits the family has received (screenshot below) when their student receives free or reduced lunch.

  • If a student received free or reduced-price lunch in 2022 or 2023 due to household eligibility, they SHOULD select that they were the recipient of the free or reduced price school lunch program.
  • If the student received free or reduced-price lunch in 2022 or 2023 due to the COVID-19 emergency, the parent should NOT select that they were the recipient of the free or reduced price school lunch program, unless they would have received the benefit based on the Department of Agriculture Eligibility Requirements.
  • If the student received free or reduced-price lunch in 2022 or 2023 due to community eligibility (i.e. all students at the school receive free or reduced price lunch) rather than household eligibility, they should NOT check that they  were the recipient of the free or reduced price school lunch program, unless they would have received the benefit based on the Department of Agriculture Eligibility Requirements.

8. Connect with your school’s financial aid office 

Colleges will not receive information from FSA until early in February. This could mean students receive their financial aid award letters later than normal, and the process of filing a financial aid appeal may be more compressed. 

Tip: Connect with the Financial Aid Office at the school you are planning to attend to get more information on what they anticipate their timeline for sending out financial aid award letters will be. 

9. Be patient!

Students will need to wait until the first half of March to receive their FAFSA® Submission Summary or their SAI (student aid index). Be patient and wait for your FAFSA® to process! 

Tip: Some students are receiving estimated SAIs shortly following the submission of their FAFSA®. Because the last official update from FSA indicated that an SAI would not be available until a student’s FAFSA® Submission Summary is available, and that FAFSA® Submission Summary will be provided once the student’s FAFSA® is processed, we would encourage students to check to see if they have received their FAFSA® Submission Summary if they received an estimated SAI.

If a student does not see their FAFSA® Submission Summary, we believe that this indicates that their FAFSA® has not been processed and that the estimated SAI may or may not be accurate. Please be patient!  

10. Get help when you need it 

Students and parents who make a mistake or error on the FAFSA® must wait until the FAFSA® is processed to make a correction.

You can receive free help and advice via:

  • The Financial Aid Office of a college or university near you. 
  • The Financial Aid office of the college or university you plan to attend. 
  • The Counselor or College and Career Advisor at your high school.
  • Going Merry via support@goingmerry.com and 
  • FSA Information Center via 1-800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243), live chat, or email. 

Known issues and their workarounds

  • If a student incorrectly selects “eligible noncitizen” and completes the demographic section they will not be able to submit FAFSA after correcting their citizenship status.
    • Workaround: Delete current application and start a new one.
  • Parents who need to re-enter a saved FAFSA will need to add country again to submit.
    • Workaround: Answer country question again.
  • Student or parent who returns to signed and saved FAFSA that still requires contributors will find the FAFSA no longer has their signature,
    • Workaround: Re-sign the FAFSA.
  • College names are truncated and difficult to distinguish between when colleges have multiple programs
    • Workaround: Search by federal school code
  • Parent or spouse contributors without FSA IDs are prevented from creating accounts while SSA (social security administration) match is pending.
    • Workaround: Delete mailing address on the Create an Account page or waiting until the SSA Match is complete

Known issues for students or parents that have yet to be resolved

  1. Students without SSNs that exit FAFSA form before “State of Legal Residency” question will be unable to continue or start new form.
  2. Parent with no SSN is unable to start FAFSA form for student or contribute to an existing form even if the students starts the application.
  3. Parent with foreign legal residence is unable to submit FAFSA when they have not filed taxes due to earning no income.
  4. FAFSA is unable to be submitted if parent contributor “Income Tax Paid” is greater than “AGI” when completing manual income/tax entry.
  5. Married student or parent who does not provide spouse’s info before leaving the FAFSA will not be able to complete and submit after returning to the form.

Frequently asked questions about the new FAFSA®

Confused about the new FAFSA? You’re not the only one. Here are some commonly asked questions about process. 

1. Which FAFSA® application should I be filling out if I’m a high school senior?

If you are enrolling in college in Fall 2024, you will be filing the FAFSA® for the 2024-2025 award year.

Tip: If you plan to enroll in college during the Summer of 2024, you may also need to complete the FAFSA® for the 2023-2024 award year. Connect with the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend to learn more about their process. 

2. Who is a contributor on the 2024-2025 FAFSA®? 

A FAFSA® contributor is a student, parent(s), or adoptive parent(s). 

Tip: Students who are a ward of the state, orphan, in foster care, and/or have a legal guardian are considered independent for the purpose of the FAFSA®. Independent students will be the only contributor on their FAFSA®.

3. Which parent should be a contributor on the FAFSA® if student parents are divorced? 

Students with divorced or separated parents should ask these questions to determine which of their parents should be a contributor on the FAFSA®:

1. Do your biological or adoptive parents live together? If yes, both parents will need to be a contributor on your FAFSA®. If not, proceed to question 2.

2. Did one parent provide more financial support than the other over the last 12 months?

  • If yes, the parent who provided the most financial support to the student will be the contributor to the student’s FAFSA®.
  • If both parents provide equal financial support to the student, the parent who has the greater income and assets is required to be the contributor on the FAFSA®.

Tip: If the parent determined to be the contributor is remarried, the student’s stepparent will also be a contributor to the FAFSA® if they didn’t file their taxes jointly with your parent. 

4. Who needs an FSA ID

All contributors on a student’s FAFSA® will need an FSA ID. In some cases, both parents will need an FSA ID or a stepparent will need an FSA ID.  

Tip: If the student’s parents are married, and file their taxes married filing separately, both parents will be required to be a contributor on the FAFSA®. Both parents will need an FSA ID.

Tip: Parents without an SSN may now make an alternative FSA ID. Learn more about that process here

5. What is the Student Aid Index?

Student Aid Index (SAI) replaced EFC (expected family contribution) as the key measure of a student’s financial need, which colleges use to determine how much federal financial aid that they will extend to a student. In many cases, the SAI is also used to determine the amount of state and institutional financial aid will be extended to a student. Some important information about SAI: 

  • Many colleges have priority deadlines for financial aid. Be sure to submit your FAFSA® before any priority deadlines your college has.
  • The SAI is not an estimate of the amount of financial aid a student will receive, and it is not an estimate of the out of pocket cost a family should expect to pay. The SAI also does not imply any financial obligation for the student or parent.
  • A student who receives a negative or 0 SAI will be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant. A negative SAI means that the student has a more financial need that a student with a SAI of 0. A college may use this to prioritize how other grants with limited funding are distributed.  

6. What is the IRS Direct Data Exchange (DDX)? 

The DDX allows the IRS to share Federal Tax Information (FTI) with the Department of Education and the colleges listed on a student’s FAFSA®. This allows for an easier and faster FAFSA® application, and reduces the amount of errors on the FAFSA®. Some important information about DDX: 

  • All contributors to a student’s FAFSA® must consent to the IRS DDX when filing the FAFSA®. Failure to do so will result in a student not being eligible for federal student aid.
  • Even if the DDX fails to pull the FTI for a student or parent, they must still consent to the DDX. Even if the parent or student doesn’t file taxes, they still must consent to the DDX.
  • The 2024-2025 FAFSA® uses skip logic for questions that don’t pertain to the particular contributor, and this combined with the DDX means that many students and parents are not being required to answer many questions about finances. 

7. Am I a dependent student or an independent student? 

Dependent students are required to have their parent(s) as a contributor on the FAFSA®, whereas independent students do not need to have their parent(s) as a contributor (Tip: Most students will be considered dependent). You are a dependent student if none of the following apply to you:

  • The student is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training.
  • The student is a veteran of the U.S. armed forces. 
  • The student has children or other people (excluding their spouse) who live with them and receive more than half of their support from the student now and between July 1, 2024 and June 30, 2025.
  • At any time since the student turned 13, they were an orphan (no living biological or adoptive parent).
  • At any time since the student turned 13, they were a ward of the court.
  • At any time since the student turned 13, they were in foster care.
  • The student is or was a legally emancipated minor, as determined by a court in their state of residence.
  • The student is or was in a legal guardianship with someone other than their parent or stepparent, as determined by a court in their state of residence.

8. What does it mean to be “provisionally independent”? 

Provisional independent status is given to students who have unusual circumstances that impact their ability to pay for school. Unusual circumstances include:

1. If a student was at any time on or after July 1, 2023 unaccompanied and either (1) homeless or (2) self-supporting and at risk of being homeless. If a student was determined to be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless by the following entities, they will be determined to be independent, but if not, they will be provisionally independent.

  • Director or designee of an emergency or transitional shelter, street outreach program, homeless youth drop-in center, or other program serving those experiencing homelessness
  • The student’s high school or school district homeless liaison or designee
  • Director or designee of a project supported by a federal TRIO or GEAR UP program grant
  • Financial aid administrator (FAA)

2. A student may be experiencing unusual circumstances and be deemed provisionally independent if they:

  • left home due to an abusive or threatening environment;
  • are abandoned by or estranged from their parents;
  • have refugee or asylee status and are separated from their parents, or their parents are displaced in a foreign country;
  • are a victim of human trafficking;
  • are incarcerated, or their parents are incarcerated and contact with the parents would pose a risk to the student; or
  • are otherwise unable to contact or locate their parents.

Note: If the student’s circumstances resulted in not having a safe and stable place to live, they may be considered a homeless youth and should review the answer to the previous question about being unaccompanied and homeless.

Tip: If a student is determined to be a provisionally independent student, they will need to contact the financial aid office at the school to provide documentation to verify their circumstances. Until this step is completed, FSA will be unable to calculate the student’s SAI. Instead, the FAFSA® will provide an estimate of the financial aid eligibility as if the student is an independent student. 

9. Does the FAFSA take inflation into account? 

There are multiple reports that the 2024-2025 FAFSA® did not take into account the rise of inflation, and this may result in reduced student eligibility for financial aid. 

On January 23, 2024, NPR first reported the announcement that the Department of Education would make inflation adjustments to the income protection tables, resulting in students receiving an additional $1.8 billion in federal financial aid. On January 30, 2024, the Department of Education made a press release regarding the status of the FAFSA®. In this press release, the DOE announced that student FAFSA® data would not be sent to colleges until the first half March.

Note: Please read the latest news on the Department of Education’s decision to correct the miscalculation of inflation on the 2024-2025 FAFSA. 

10. Where can I get help with the FAFSA®? 

You can receive free help and advice via:

  • The Financial Aid Office of a college or university near you. 
  • The Financial Aid office of the college or university you plan to attend. 
  • The Counselor or College and Career Advisor at your high school.
  • Going Merry via support@goingmerry.com and 
  • FSA Information Center via 1-800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243), live chat, or email. 

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.

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