2024-2025 FAFSA Changes, Explained

By Melissa Brock · September 19, 2023 · 8 minute read

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2024-2025 FAFSA Changes, Explained

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that incoming and returning college students (and their parents) need to fill out to be considered for federal financial aid. The FAFSA helps students qualify for federal grants and loans, such as the Pell Grant and Federal Direct Subsidized Loans. States and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for grants and scholarships.

Unfortunately, the FAFSA is known for being a long, tedious, and complex form to fill out. To help ease confusion — and encourage more families to fill out the form — the Department of Education rolled out a new streamlined and simplified FAFSA for the 2024-25 school year on New Year’s Eve, 2023 (a delay from the usual October 1).

The simplified FAFSA also ushers in a new formula to determine who will qualify for aid and how much they’ll receive. Here’s what you need to know about the FAFSA changes, plus other updates to financial aid.

Why Is the FAFSA Changing?

The Department of Education has long fielded concerns about the complexity and length of the FAFSA. As a result, Congress passed legislation in 2020 — called the FAFSA Simplification Act (FSA) — to make the FAFSA easier for students and their families to complete. The act not only overhauls the FAFSA form, dramatically reducing the number of questions, but also changes the methodologies and formulas used for determining federal student aid eligibility.

The new provisions were designed to be implemented in the 2023-24 school year but, due to delays, the Department of Education has been using a phased approach, with only a few of the new rules appearing on the October 1, 2022, FAFSA. The remaining provisions are set to go into effect for the 2024-25 award year. The new form became available on New Year’s Eve, 2023.

💡 Quick Tip: You’ll make no payments on some private student loans for six months after graduation.

2024-2025 FAFSA Updates

The FAFSA updates include a shorter, simpler-to-fill-out form, along with changes in how your financial aid is calculated. Below, we break it all down.

Shorter Form/Fewer Questions

A major FAFSA change is that the form itself will shrink from an intimidating 108 questions to no more than 36 questions (though some will have multiple parts). The actual number of questions you’ll need to answer (which could be less than 36) will depend on your financial situation. The new form also makes it easier to import income data from your tax records.

The Department of Education is hoping that a shorter, simpler form will encourage more students and their families to fill out a FAFSA and increase access to financial aid.

Questions About Selective Service and Drug Convictions Dropped

The new FAFSA eliminates any questions about whether a student has had any drug-related convictions. A drug conviction will no longer prevent students from receiving Pell Grants.

In addition, the Selective Service registration — which required male students under 26 to enroll in the draft — was removed as part of the FAFSA Simplification Act. This was taken off the FAFSA in 2021. Students are no longer required to register for Selective Service to receive federal aid.

Other Demographic Questions Added

The Department of Education also added a new demographic survey to the signature and submission portion of the FAFSA. Students will fill in certain demographic information, such as their gender, race, and ethnicity before submitting the form. These questions are solely for research purposes (to create statistics on who is and is not applying) and are not factored into aid decisions. While you must fill out the demographic survey, you are allowed to decline the answers.

EFC Becomes SAI

The new FAFSA renames the current Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to the Student Aid Index (SAI). The EFC is a number that colleges use to determine a family’s financial need relative to other applicants. The name, however, caused confusion, since the EFC doesn’t actually represent the amount a family will have to contribute (or pay) for college. You could end up spending more, or less, than your EFC.

Besides the name change, there are a few differences in how EFC/SAI will be calculated. Here are some notable updates:

•  EFC factored in the number of family members in college but SAI does not. Families with more than one child in college no longer have an advantage in receiving aid.

•  The lowest EFC an applicant could receive was $0. The SAI can go as low as -$1,500, making it easier to more accurately determine an applicant’s financial need.

•  SAI will increase the Income Protection Allowance (IPA) that shelters a certain amount of parental income from inclusion in the calculation of total income.

Recommended: 31 Facts About FAFSA for Parents

Getting a Pell Grant Becomes Easier

The FAFSA Simplification Act increases the number of students eligible for a Pell Grant. The maximum awards will now go to all families who fall below the income thresholds for tax filing, or who have adjusted gross incomes below 225% (single) or 175% (married) of the poverty line. In addition, the Act restores Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students.

Students will also be able to estimate their eligibility for the grant before they complete the FAFSA.

How Will the FAFSA Changes Affect Students?

The new FAFSA will save time and headaches for all applicants. For many students and their families, the FAFSA changes will also mean more aid. For some, however, the changes will mean less help from the government.

Many families, especially low-income families, will likely get more aid, due to more generous formulas. For example, the IPA will increase by 20% for parents, up to about $2,400 (35%) for most students, and up to about $6,500 (60%) for students who are single parents.

In addition, more families will be eligible for the Pell Grants. Previously, families with incomes higher than $60,000 were generally ineligible for a Pell Grant. Now, students from families earning between $60,000 and $70,000 will likely receive some Pell Grant funding.

On the downside, the number of kids a family has in college will no longer be factored into the formula for the parent allowance. Indeed, families with multiple children in college at the same time may find that they will get less financial aid than they are used to.

Recommended: I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?

When Does the 2024-2025 FAFSA Become Available?

The FAFSA traditionally opens on October 1 for the following academic year. This year, due to the FAFSA updates taking longer than expected, the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid released the new simplified FAFSA on New Year’s Eve, 2023 for the 2024-2025 academic year.

Even if you’ve filled out the FAFSA in the past, you need to submit the new simplified FAFSA. That’s because you need to complete a FAFSA every year to unlock federal student loans, grants, work-study, and even some private scholarships.

Once you submit the new FAFSA, you’ll receive your FAFSA Submission Summary, which details the information you included on the application and your SAI.

Cash vs. Private Student Loans: Which One Is Better?

Whatever cash you or your family members can save for college will benefit you in the long run, since it will mean borrowing less and paying less in interest. Therefore, cash is king when it comes to paying for college.

However, if you don’t have enough cash for college, you’re far from alone — and you still have plenty of funding options. By filling out the FAFSA, you may be able to access federal aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, federal subsidized loans (no interest charged while you are in school), and federal unsubsidized loans (interest accrues while you are in school).

If you still have gaps in funding, you may be able to fill them by getting a private student loan. These loans are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Each lender sets its own interest rate and you can often choose to go with a fixed or variable rate. Unlike federal loans, qualification is not need-based. However, you will need to undergo a credit check and students often need a cosigner.

If a student (or their cosigner) has excellent credit, it may actually be possible to get a private student loan with a lower interest rate than a federal loan, particularly if you’re looking at federal PLUS loans for parents or graduate students, which carry higher rates than federal loans for undergraduate students.

Just keep in mind that private student loans may not offer the same protections, such as income-based repayment plans, that automatically come with federal student loans.

💡 Quick Tip: Federal student loans carry an origination or processing fee (1.057% for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans first disbursed from Oct. 1, 2020, through Oct. 1, 2024). The fee is subtracted from your loan amount, which is why the amount disbursed is less than the amount you borrowed. That said, some private student loan lenders don’t charge an origination fee.

The Takeaway

When the new simplified FAFSA became available at the end of 2023, it included a lot of changes, including fewer questions and a switch from EFC to SAI (which will serve the same purpose). Some changes also took place behind the scenes, including updates to the formulas used to calculate aid eligibility. More students qualify for Pell grants, but families with multiple children in college may see their award go down.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/skynesher

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