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Guide to FAFSA Income Requirements

By Melissa Brock · October 14, 2022 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Guide to FAFSA Income Requirements

Even the progeny of high earners, or grad students who make a lot, have nothing to lose by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. There are no FAFSA® income limits.

The FAFSA is meant to help families qualify for need-based financial aid, but the application determines non-need-based aid after considering eligibility for need-based aid.

Plus, some colleges won’t consider you for any of their merit scholarships until you’ve completed the FAFSA. And most schools and states use FAFSA information to award non-federal aid.

What Are FAFSA Income Limits?

There is no income maximum when you file the FAFSA as an undergraduate or graduate student to attend college or career school. In other words, any eligible student can fill out the online form, even if they hail from higher-income families.

What does “eligible student” mean? You’re eligible if you can claim U.S. citizenship (or are a U.S. national, are eligible for a green card, have an arrival-departure record from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, have “battered immigrant-qualified alien” status, or you or a parent has a T- or T-1 visa), have a valid Social Security number, and are enrolled in or accepted for an eligible degree or certificate program. You must also show evidence of academic progress and certify that you aren’t in default on a federal student loan, do not owe money on a federal student grant, and will only use federal student aid for educational purposes.

You must also have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate, show evidence of completing a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law, or that you enrolled in a career pathway program.

How Are FAFSA Needs Calculated?

Your eligibility for scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans depends on several factors, including expected family contribution (EFC), cost of attendance, and need-based financial aid.

Students who have divorced parents are to use the income information for the parent they have lived with most of the time for the past 12 months. If that parent has remarried, the financial information of the stepparent will also typically be required.

EFC

The expected family contribution is an index number that determines how much financial aid you can receive. It’s an estimate, not the exact number that your family must come up with in order to pay for college. (Beginning on July 1, 2024, the EFC will be replaced with the Student Aid Index.)

The EFC is calculated according to formulas established by law. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) may all go into the EFC formula.

There are three regular formulas, and a simplified version of each, for dependent students, independent students “without dependents other than a spouse,” and independent students with dependents other than a spouse.

Two income thresholds based on 2021 adjusted gross income, to be used for the 2023-24 FAFSA, are built into the financial aid formula:

Automatic zero EFC. Dependent students whose parents’ combined income was $29,000 or less in 2021 and who meet other criteria may have their EFC automatically set to zero. The same holds true for independent students and their spouses if they have dependents.

Simplified needs test for dependent undergrads. If parents’ combined income was $49,999 or less and the student meets other criteria, their assets and their parents’ will be ignored on the FAFSA.

The “income protection allowance” also involves numbers. It’s the part of income that isn’t counted when financial need is calculated.

For dependent students, the student income protection allowance for 2023-24 is $7,600, meaning if they made $7,600 or less in yearly taxable and nontaxable income, nothing is counted toward their contribution.

For their parents, the income protection allowance depends on household size and number in college. For a family of four with one student in college, the income protection allowance for the 2023-2024 academic year is $32,610. Income above that figure, the family’s so-called discretionary income, is what counts when calculating their contribution.

But before calculating the parent contribution, you first have to adjust for an “employment expense allowance,” which is maximum $4,700.

Now you have the adjusted income, from which you can calculate the parent contribution from income. Generally, for families with an adjusted income of $38,301 or more, the calculation is $10,361 + 47% of adjusted income over $38,300.

Cost of Attendance

The cost of attendance (COA) of a college or university refers to the estimated cost of a year of attendance at that school, including tuition, lodging, food, transportation, and personal expenses.

When financial aid staffers at a college or university calculate the amount of financial aid you can qualify for, they take their COA and subtract your EFC to determine your financial need.

COA – EFC = Financial Need

Need-Based Financial Aid

Once a school uses that formula to determine your financial need, it then determines how much need-based aid you can get.

Is there an exact formula to determine exactly how much need-based you’ll get? No, because every college, university, and career school has a different way of calculating how much financial aid you’ll receive. For example, depending on your amount of demonstrated need, you may receive $1,000 in work-study money to work at an on-campus job. Another student may receive $2,000, whereas another student may not receive any money at all.

Grants and Loans That Require Financial Need

If you do not demonstrate financial need, you may not be eligible for need-based financial aid. Here are a few federal grants and loans that require you to demonstrate financial need in order to qualify:

•   Federal Pell Grants

•   Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants

•   Federal Work-Study Program

•   Direct Subsidized Loans

Different Kinds of Financial Aid

You may be eligible to receive different kinds of need-based financial aid as well as non-need-based aid, including Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans for parents or graduate and professional students.

For the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent year for which these stats are available, undergraduate and graduate students received almost $235 billion in financial aid through grants, federal student loans, tax credits, and federal work-study, according to the Trends in Student Aid report from the College Board. The average full-time student received $14,800 per undergraduate student and $26,920 per graduate student.

Pell Grants

The Federal Pell Grant award amount changes yearly. The maximum award is $6,895 for the 2022-2023 academic year. (The amount for 2023-2024 has not been announced yet.)

The actual amount of Pell Grant you can receive depends on your EFC, the cost of attendance at your college or university, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and the amount of time that you will attend school during the academic year.

FSEOG

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which typically doesn’t have to be repaid (unless you don’t fulfill your end of the bargain by completing school), goes to students who demonstrate high need.

Financial aid offices can pull from their “pot of money” and award students $100 to $4,000 per year. The amount of money you can get also depends on when you apply, the amount of other aid you get, and how much your college or university can offer students.

Work-Study Programs

For undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who have financial need, the Federal Work-Study Program offers part-time jobs to help with college expenses. You must earn the money for the program through work on or off campus.

You can enroll on a full- or part-time basis, but your school must participate in the Federal Work-Study Program. To find out if your college participates, check with the professionals at your school’s financial aid office.

Direct Subsidized Loans

A Direct Subsidized Loan is a need-based loan granted by the federal government for students who need an undergraduate loan. You do not have to pay interest on the loan while you’re in school, during any deferment, or during the grace period.

In order to receive a Direct Subsidized Loan, you’ll complete entrance counseling, which goes over your obligation to repay the loan, and sign a master promissory note, which indicates that you agree to the loan terms.

The interest rate is 4.99% for Direct Subsidized Loans (for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2022, and before July 1, 2022), with a loan fee of 1.057%.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Like a Direct Subsidized Loan, a Direct Unsubsidized Loan comes from the federal government, but graduate and professional students can also receive these loans.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are non-need based, unlike Direct Subsidized Loans, and the government does not pay the interest while you’re in school, during any deferment, and during the grace period. The loan, like all others, will accrue interest from the minute it’s disbursed.

The interest rate is 4.99% for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for undergraduates and 6.54% for graduate and professional students (for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2022, and before July 1, 2023), plus a loan fee of 1.057%.

It’s worth noting that for both types of Direct loans, you do not need to undergo a credit check in order to qualify. These types of loans have annual and aggregate loan limits .

Direct PLUS Loan

Parents of undergraduate students and graduate or professional students can receive a Direct PLUS Loan from a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program. Some schools call this loan type a parent PLUS loan or grad PLUS loan to differentiate the two.

Direct PLUS Loans carry an interest rate of 7.54% (for loans disbursed between July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023) and a loan fee of 4.228% (for loans disbursed through Oct. 1, 2023). You’ll undergo a credit check as a parent or a graduate/professional student to look for adverse events, but eligibility does not depend on your credit scores.

You can obtain up to the full cost of attendance of the school minus any other financial aid you receive.

Beyond Federal Student Loans

Do you have to file the FAFSA? No, it’s not required, but it is a good idea to do so. Schools, states, and other programs also use the FAFSA to determine merit-based grants and scholarships.

Aside from federal loans, here are other ways to pay for college:

Savings

Some parents, and grandparents, prepare for the task of paying for college when and if they can. The advantage of tapping into savings is obvious: You don’t have to borrow.

Got a 529 college savings plan? Good. A Uniform Transfers to Minors Act or Uniform Gift to Minors Act custodial account also can be set up to pay any expense that benefits a minor.

Using retirement funds to pay for college isn’t always a good move, clearly, but some parents dip into retirement savings or use home equity to pay for college tuition bills as they come.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans come from a bank, credit union, or other private lender. You may want to consider exhausting all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider private student loans.

They remain a great option, though, for filling gaps in need.

The amount you can borrow depends on the costs of your degree, and eligibility depends on your credit score and income.

Learn more through this private student loan guide.

Grants

Grants, which are typically need-based, are a type of financial aid that students generally don’t have to repay (unless they fail to finish the semester or year in college). The U.S. Department of Education offers the following grants besides Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants:

•   Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

•   Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants

A student can seek other grants from their state, their college or career school, or another organization.

Scholarships

Scholarships, like grants, are a type of financial aid that you don’t have to pay back. You can apply for scholarships anywhere — through professional organizations, your job or your parents’ jobs, local organizations, religious groups, your college or career school — the list goes on.

There are lots of scholarship finders online.

Part-Time Work

If you have the time and energy to pair a part-time job with your studies, you can consider doing so after classes or on the weekends. Part-time work can help you pay for school or additional expenses, such as rent or groceries.

Private Student Loans With SoFi

Still curious about FAFSA income limits? The sky’s the limit. No matter your income, it’s worth it to file the FAFSA and see what kind of financial aid you might get.

If the aid you’re offered falls short, SoFi may be able to help. SoFi Private Student Loans allow cosigners and have low rates, no fees, and flexible repayment options.

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

FAQ

Can you get financial aid if your parents make over $100K?

The short answer is yes. While you may not receive certain grants and loans because of your parents’ income, it’s important to remember that some federal financial aid is not need-based. For example, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are not based on need.

How are FAFSA income limits different for divorced parents?

You’ll answer questions about the parent whom you lived with more over the course of the last 12 months. However, if your parents are separated but still live together, you’ll answer questions about both of them.

If the parent you’ve lived with the most has remarried, you must report your stepparent’s income information on the FAFSA. In that case, you do not report your noncustodial parent’s financial information.

Are FAFSA income limits different for independent students?

No. In general, there are no income limits for any applicant.

Your dependency status makes a difference as to which questions you answer on the FAFSA. You can qualify as an independent student if you are any of these:

•   At least 24 years old

•   Married

•   A graduate or professional student

•   A veteran

•   A member of the armed forces

•   An orphan or a ward of the court

•   Taking care of legal dependents


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