The 2021-2022 FAFSA will be available this Thursday, Oct. 1. Do you need to fill it out right away? Maybe.

Here’s what you do need to do now: Get an FSA ID. You and your student each need one. There is typically a delay between submitting the FSA ID request and the ID being created, so you should do this ahead of time.

When to file the FAFSA? If you are eligible for any need-based aid that is disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis, then fill out the FAFSA ASAP. Typically this is state-based grants that are not tied to a particular school (but may be tied to a group such as four-year in-state public schools). “ASAP” does not necessarily mean “on October 1.” If you have bills that will be paid or income that will be received early in the month that will result in significant changes in your bank balance, you’ll want to plan to file on the date your balance will be the lowest since your assets are valued on the date you file.

If your financial situation has changed for the worse since 2019 such that you will be requesting a financial aid appeal, you should also do the FAFSA sooner rather than later so that you can request “professional judgment” or PJ, as soon as possible. The PJ process requires submission of additional documents so filing early will give you more time to find out and collect each school’s required documentation. And again, look at early October income/expense expectations and file on the date when your account balances are lowest.

If neither of the above applies, you don’t have to submit right away. In fact, you should look at any planned spending that could happen between now and the end of the year that might result in lower account balances and plan to file after those expenses have been incurred.

If your student is already in college and you’re only filing a renewal FAFSA, check with your school as to when that is due. Often it’s in the spring, so there’s no need to treat it with urgency at this point.

You can enter all of your data into the FAFSA and then hold off on submitting. However:

  • It’s not unusual for the FAFSA site to crash due to heavy usage in the early days of October, so if there isn’t a compelling reason to do it right away, you might save yourself a good deal of frustration by waiting a week.
  • If your goal is to minimize assets, don’t forget to go back and edit those values on the date that you submit so that they’re accurate.