Preparation and Filing Options

By federal law, students have two options when preparing their annual, federal student aid application: either prepare the form on the U.S. Department of Education's website or get assistance from a fee-based FAFSA preparation service. Most financial aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis, and students are encouraged to prepare and submit a FAFSA on the day it opens, January 1 of each year, using income estimates to be updated after taxes are filed.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's website, students have three preparation options:

Online at
By telephone at 1-800-433-3243
By paper

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 authorized fee-based FAFSA preparation. By law, fee-based FAFSA preparation services must on initial contact with students inform them of the free option and be transparent about their non-affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education and their fees. Students should not engage with FAFSA preparation firms that are not transparent about FAFSA options and their fees upfront, or that promise to obtain scholarships.