Skip to main content

FAFSA Simplification

The FAFSA Simplification Act was initiated as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This large scale update to the federal aid system aims to ultimately make the process more straightforward and accessible for students and families. In the short term, it means significant changes to the application and awarding process, starting with the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

These FAQs will help answer questions you may have while completing the new FAFSA. If you experience an error while completing the FAFSA, we encourage you to visit the 2024-2025 FAFSA Issues Alerts page as many known issues have a temporary work-around suggested while Federal Student Aid works on a solution.

We recommend that you review the FAQs prior to starting the 2024-2025 FAFSA to determine the steps you and your contributors will need to take to successfully complete and submit the FAFSA.

The information provided in this FAQs may apply to undergraduate and graduate students. Note that graduate students will not provide parental information on the FAFSA, but will provide spousal information if married.

We (and the federal government) are aware that some graduate students may be incorrectly presented with Pell Grant eligibility information upon submission of the FAFSA on both confirmation emails and pages. Please note that all graduate students are ineligible for Federal Pell Grants. Unfortunately, only undergraduate students may be eligible for Federal Pell Grant funding.

See below for frequently asked questions regarding the updated FAFSA and FAFSA Simplification.

General Processing questions

I'm having trouble filling out my FAFSA. What should I do?

We know there are a few issues that students and families are having as they attempt to fill out the FAFSA, which may not allow them to complete it at this time. We understand—and any delays in filling out your FAFSA will not impact your financial aid. However, you should still try to complete it as soon as you are able to do so. You can check this resource page or the known issues page on the Federal Student Aid site.

If your FAFSA appears as “In review” (meaning it has not been processed) in your account, no corrections can be made until it is processed. You will receive an email once it is fully processed.

I completed my FAFSA but it still says "In review" on the site. What should I do?

Your FAFSA will not be processed by the Department of Education until mid-to-late March. This means that Northwestern will not receive information about your FAFSA until mid-March at the earliest.

Your FAFSA will appear as “In review” (meaning it has not been processed) in your account and no corrections can be made until it is processed. You will receive an email once it is fully processed, letting you know that your FAFSA information has been sent to Northwestern.

What is changing on the FAFSA application?

The application for the 2024–2025 FAFSA is designed to be easier to fill out with a substantial reduction in questions. Some key changes:

  • The federal Pell Grant eligibility will expand to more students as determined by family size and income
  • Both students and parents must create an FSA ID and provide consent for the FAFSA to retrieve their tax information from the IRS through the Direct Data Exchange (DDX)
  • In the case of divorced or separated parents, the parent who provided the most financial support in the last calendar year must complete the application
  • The number of children in college at the same time will no longer affect eligibility for federal need-based aid

You can get a sense of how much federal student aid you may be eligible for, with the Federal Student Aid Estimator. It takes about 10 minutes, and you can do this before filling out the FAFSA.

How will FAFSA simplification impact the aid process?

The 2024–2025 FAFSA is now available. All students eligible for federal aid should submit it as soon as they are able. Northwestern will not receive your FAFSA from the Department of Education until mid-to-late March.

For admitted MD and JD applicants, if we anticipate that you are eligible for federal loan assistance, it will be estimated on your preliminary financial aid offer once it is released according to the timeline listed on our application instructions. Official financial aid offers will contain finalized eligibility once the FAFSA is received and eligibility is verified.

I'm an undergraduate SPS student and my FAFSA reflects that I have a provisional independent status. What should I do?

If you indicate that you have an unusual circumstance when you fill out your FAFSA, but do not have all the required documentation, you will be granted provisional independent status. You will be able to complete the FAFSA as an independent student and will receive an estimated Student Aid Index and Federal Pell Grant. However, this does not guarantee that you will be granted independent status. Your financial aid advisor will reach out to you directly to make sure you complete the required documentation. Once complete, your dependency override request will be reviewed by Northwestern financial aid staff. Learn more about unusual circumstances and dependency override on our financial aid appeals page.


Who are contributors on the 2024-25 FAFSA?

Contributor is a new term introduced on the 2024-25 FAFSA form. It refers to anyone asked to provide information on a student's FAFSA form, i.e., the student, the student's spouse, a biological or adopted parent, or the parent's spouse (stepparent).

How are contributors determined?

The student's or parent's answers on the FAFSA will determine which contributors (if any) will be required to provide information.

What do contributors need to provide?

These contributors will be invited to complete their portion of the FAFSA form by entering their name, date of birth, Social Security Number, and email address. They must also provide personal and financial information in their sections of the FAFSA form.

What are the steps contributors must follow?

Contributor receives an email informing them that they have been identified as a contributor.

Contributor creates a account if they do not already have one.

Contributor logs in to the account using their FSA ID account username and password.

Contributor reviews information about completing their section of the FAFSA form.

Contributor provides the required information on the student's FAFSA form.

What if I am a contributor and do not want to provide my information in my student's FAFSA?

If a required contributor refuses to provide their information, it will result in an incomplete FAFSA form and the student will become ineligible for federal student aid.

What if my parents are divorced? Who is the contributor to my FAFSA?

Students that live with a single/divorced/widowed parent and receive the most support from that parent, will report only one parent on the FAFSA.

The parent included in the FAFSA as a contributor must be the parent who provides the greater portion of the student's financial support. If that primary parent is remarried, the income of that parent's spouse (stepparent) will also be required.

Why does the 2024-25 FAFSA require consent from students and contributors?

According to the Future Act, all students and contributors must provide consent to the following:

Have their federal tax information transferred directly into the FAFSA form via direct data exchange with the IRS;

Have their federal tax information used to determine the student's eligibility for federal student aid; and

Allow the U.S. Department of Education to share its federal tax information with postsecondary institutions and state higher education agencies for use in awarding and administering financial aid.

Important: Even if students or contributors do not have a Social Security Number, did not file taxes, or filed taxes outside of the U.S., they still need to provide consent.

What if I don't want to provide consent as a student or a required contributor?

If a student or required contributor doesn't provide consent to have their federal tax information transferred into the FAFSA form, the student will not be eligible for federal student aid—even if they manually enter tax information into the FAFSA form.

Information about how federal tax information will be used and the consequences of not providing consent will be included on the FAFSA form.

Legal parents must provide consent to transfer federal tax information, even if one of the parents did not file or had no income. If parents fail to provide consent, the student will not be eligible to receive federal student aid.


What is an FSA ID and who needs it?

All students and contributors must create a account to complete the FAFSA form online. Students and contributors will use their FSA ID account username and password to log in to their accounts. If you or your contributor already have an FSA ID, you will use your existing FSA ID username and password.

Even if a parent or spouse contributor does not have a Social Security Number (see below), they can still get an FSA ID username and password to fill out their portion of the student's FAFSA form online.

Is the FSA ID process changing?

No. The FSA ID process is not changing. It is better that parents and students can create an FSA ID username and password to have ready when completing the FAFSA. If you (or your contributor) already have an FSA ID, you will use your existing FSA ID username and password.

How do I or other contributors create an FSA ID?

For those who have a Social Security Number (SSN) , an FSA ID username and password can be created starting with the SSN. Other information required is full name and date of birth. You will also need to create a memorable username and password and complete challenge questions and answers to retrieve your account information if you forget it. You'll be required to provide your email address or mobile phone number when you create your FSA ID. Providing a mobile phone number and/or email address that you have access to will make it easier to log in to ED online systems and allow you to verify your FSA ID username and password before using it on the FAFSA and additional account recovery options.

My parent has remarried. Is the primary parent's spouse required to get an FSA ID as well?

If the parent you indicate on the FAFSA (primary parent) is the parent who remarried, it will depend on how they filed taxes. If they filed jointly, only one parent needs an FSA ID. If they filed separately, both the primary parent and spouse will need their own FSA ID.

Will parents and students need to create a new FSA ID if they have had an FSA ID in the past?

No. You can retrieve your existing FSA ID if you forgot your username and password. Please see the following U.S. Department of Education website regarding assistance with accessing an existing FSA ID account.

When you create an FSA ID, is it ready to use right away or is there a wait time?

This can vary. It is possible to create an FSA ID and it will be ready to use once you verify it. It is also possible that after completing the FSA ID creation steps (including verifying it), you will be instructed by the online FSA ID portal to wait 24-48 hours to use your FSA ID.

We recommend creating your FSA ID several days before starting the FAFSA form. FSA IDs made on the day of FAFSA completion might work but will not have full functionality yet, like using the Direct Data Exchange (FADDX) to transfer federal tax information (FTI).

Why do I have to set up two-step verification for my account?

Two-step verification, a form of multi-factor authentication (MFA), helps protect your account with additional protection from fraud.

Does each contributor need a unique phone number or email for multi-factor authentication?

Yes! For example, a student and parent cannot use the same phone number for MFA.

Do both parents need to create an FSA ID or just one like before?

This depends on the family's situation. For example, if a student has married parents filing taxes separately, both parents will need to make an FSA ID.

Do parents without a social security number also need to have an FSA ID?

The 2024-25 FAFSA requires individuals – regardless of their citizenship status – to have an account to access and sign the FAFSA form. Your parents' citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal aid. 

Individuals who do not possess an SSN will be required to complete the account creation process specifically for those without a SSN:

Step 1: Visit, select “Create Account” and complete all steps, including answering 1-4 knowledge-based verification questions via TransUnion®.

Step 2: Upon completing the Create Account process, the individual will see a confirmation page with the results of identity verification. If the TransUnion® process is unsuccessful, the individual will be informed that FSA was unable to verify their information and to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-433-3243The individual will receive an email from FSA for next steps and verify their identity.

Step 3: Once the individual contacts FSAIC, FSA will send a verification email, which will include guidance on unexpired acceptable documentation (listed below) to verify their identity. Individuals will also be required to submit an attestation and validation of identity form along with their approved identity documentation. 

Acceptable Documents to Establish Identity:

Provide one (1) of the following:

U.S. Driver's License
U.S. State/City Identification Card
Foreign Passport


Provide one (1) set of documents:

Municipal Identification Cards + utility bill
Community ID + utility bill
Consular Identification Cards/Matricula Consular+utility bill

Step 4: Upon receipt of the email that FSA was unable to verify identity, the individual is required to submit one or a combination of their unexpired acceptable documentation from the list above and a signed attestation form to:

Step 5: FSA will review submitted documentation to match the information provided during the Create Account process. If there is a successful match, FSA will send an email indicating identity has been verified and their account FSA ID username and password can be used to log in at and complete the FAFSA.

If a parent does not want to or refuses to create an FSA ID, is there an alternative for that parent to provide consent, such as mailing an original signed (i.e. "wet signature") consent page?

Starting 2024-25, a separate signature page will no longer exist. There are two alternative options for contributors to provide consent who do not want to or refuse to create an FSA ID:

The first example would be the student applying using the paper FAFSA and obtaining wet signatures from all contributors, including the parents, who also affirm their consent.

The other option is for the student to complete their section and self-report information for the parent section on the FAFSA form. When the student submits their FAFSA form without the parent's signature, it will be placed in rejected status by the FAFSA Processing System (FPS). The parent can then provide their signature and consent on a paper copy of the FAFSA Submission Summary. This method is not recommended, if avoidable, due to the complexity and resulting increased processing time.

Consent, Financial Data and Taxes

What is consent and why do I have to provide it when completing the 2024-25 FAFSA?

The Future Act requires that every contributor on the FAFSA provide consent to share their taxes information in the application so that the IRS can share this information with Federal Student Aid (FSA). All parties whose Federal Tax Information (FTI) is included on a student’s FAFSA form must consent annually.

The consent will be required when a student submits a FAFSA, chooses Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) when starting loan repayment, or submits the Total and Permanent Disability discharge (TPD) within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for totally and permanently disabled students.

The consent is necessary not only for the U.S. Department of Education to request federal tax information from the IRS but also to use that FTI in the federal student aid application process (i.e., disclose that information to certain eligible entities, such as higher education institutions).

What happens if I, as a student, or a spouse or parent, do not want to provide consent on the FAFSA?

If a student, spouse, or parent does not provide consent on the FAFSA, the Student Aid Index (SAI) will not be calculated, and the student will not be eligible for financial aid.

What if I had a low income and was not required to file taxes?

According to the IRS tax year 2022, these are the thresholds by filing status. If an independent student (and spouse, if married), or a parent of a dependent student, were not required to file a federal income tax return for 2022, then the student will automatically receive a Student Aid Index (SAI) equal to –1500. They still need to provide consent when submitting the FAFSA so the IRS can confirm to Federal Student Aid (FSA) that the student, parents, and spouse did not file taxes.

Will students still be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

No. Starting FAFSA 2024-25, the DRT will no longer exist. After the student, spouse, and/or parent provides consent to the Direct Data Exchange (FADDX) via the FAFSA completion process, the Federal Tax Information (FTI) will be linked to the application contributor. Federal Student Aid (FSA) will now directly transfer Federal Tax Information (FTI) from the IRS into the FAFSA form as long as the user has provided FSA with consent to do so.

All users identified as required contributors on a particular FAFSA form will be prompted to provide consent for the IRS to use their Federal Tax Information (FTI). This consent is required to retrieve FTI from the IRS to calculate the student’s aid eligibility. If any required contributor to the FAFSA form does not provide consent, submission of the form will still be allowed. However, a Student Aid Index (SAI), which replaces the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), will not be calculated.

Will non-custodial parents be contributors if they have not claimed the child on their taxes?

Starting with the Simplified FAFSA, students will determine which parent(s) to report based on which provides the most financial support. This determination will not be impacted by if the parent(s) reported the student on their taxes. The reported parent(s) will provide consent to transfer their tax data even if they do not claim the student on their taxes.

If parents who are remarried provide more support to the child than a biological parent, does the stepparent have to provide their tax information?

Yes. If the parent providing more financial support is remarried, the stepparent’s tax information is required.

What if my parent or stepparent does not want to provide their tax information on my FAFSA?

Office of Financial Aid staff can talk directly with the parent or stepparent to explain why that information is needed and answer any questions, which sometimes puts them at ease about how their information will be used. Our staff cannot provide tax advice.

How do I report small business or farm value as an asset on the FAFSA?

Parents (or independent students) are the best sources for this estimate; they can consult their accountant or other financial professional if they have access to one, to estimate the amounts to report.

My parent is self-employed. Do they still need to say they own a business?

Being self-employed shows as business income on tax returns. But it depends on the type of work whether or not they will have to report any assets associated with their business.

I (and/or my parents or spouse) amended our taxes. Will my federal tax information (FTI) be transferred, or do I have to provide a 1040X to the school?

Yes, Federal Tax Information (FTI) can be transferred. Starting 2024-25, when the student, spouse, parent, and/or stepparent provide consent, the IRS’s FTI will include the information from an amended tax return.

Can I self-report my income n the FAFSA?

After you provide consent on the FAFSA, if the IRS cannot transfer your Federal Tax Information (FTI) to your FAFSA application, the application will allow you to self-report it. Self-reporting your tax information on the FAFSA does not override the requirement for each required contributor to provide consent on the FAFSA form. They will need to both 1) provide consent and 2) have their tax information submitted, either directly from the IRS or self-reported manually, on the FAFSA form.

If the parent of a dependent student or an independent student is a non-filer and earned no wages for the applicable tax year, do they have to provide consent?

Any individual who is a contributor to the FAFSA application must provide consent. This includes parents and independent students, regardless of their tax filing status. Generally, the parents of independent students are not contributors and would, therefore, not need to provide consent.

What happens if a contributor provides consent but does not sign the FAFSA?

Starting 2024-25, FAFSAs submitted online must be completed online, including all required signatures. This means if a signature is missing, the applicable parent or the contributor must obtain an FSA ID to complete their section and sign the FAFSA.

Starting 2024-25, parents without a Social Security Number may create an FSA ID for use in completing and signing the FAFSA. Please see the following U.S. Department of Education webpage regarding creating an FSA ID: Create Account | Federal Student Aid.

There is no longer an option to print and submit a signature page to complete an online FAFSA and financial aid administrators will not be able to submit FAFSA signature forms on students’ behalf.

Students and parents will be required to have an FSA ID to complete the FAFSA application, including consent and signature, online. If they choose to mail a paper FAFSA, all contributors (student and parents) will need to provide consent on the paper FAFSA, provide original signatures (i.e. wet signatures), and mail the paper FAFSA to the U.S. Department of Education address as indicated on the paper application. This method is not recommended due to its complexity and resulting increased processing time.

In what situations will there be a match with the IRS but the IRS would not provide information?

Identity theft or fraud are the most likely reasons for the IRS not providing tax information for the applicant or the contributor. If the contributor has been flagged by the IRS, possibly due to identity theft or a breach of some sort to their information, then the IRS will notify the FAFSA processors via an electronic code indicating they are unable to provide the data. The FAFSA processors will notify you if this occurs.

If a parent does not want to or refuses to create an FSA ID, is there an alternative for that parent to provide consent, such as mailing an original signature (i.e. "wet signature") on a consent page?

There is no longer a separate signature page, and there will not be a consent signature option on paper. There are two alternative options for contributors to provide consent who will not or cannot create an FSA ID. One option is to submit a paper FAFSA form completed by all contributors and mailed to Federal Student Aid. This method is not recommended due to its complexity and increased processing time.

Student Aid Index (SAI) and Federal Pell Grant

What is the Student Aid Index (SAI)?

The Student Aid Index (SAI) is replacing the term Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The SAI brings a change in the methodology used to determine aid.

The SAI is a number used to determine eligibility for federal need-based aid. It is calculated using information the student (and contributors, if required) provides on the FAFSA form. The SAI will replace the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) starting in the 2024-25 award year. A student’s SAI can be a negative number as low as -1500.

The following formula is used to calculate your federal financial need.

Calculated Need = Cost of Attendance (COA) – Student Aid Index (SAI) – Other Financial Assistance (OFA)

That is the main difference between the SAI (starting with the 2024-25 FAFSA) and the EFC (used through the 2023-24 FAFSA)

The Student Aid Index (SAI) represents a change in the methodology used to determine aid.

For example:

Child support received will now count as an asset instead of income.

Family farms and small businesses will now count as assets.

The number of family members in college is no longer considered in the needs analysis formula, but it is still a required question on the FAFSA form.

How is federal Pell grant eligibility determined?

Students may qualify for a maximum Federal Pell Grant based on family size, adjusted gross income, poverty guidelines, and tax filing status. Students qualifying for a maximum Federal Pell Grant will have a Student Aid Index (SAI) between –1500 and 0.

Students who do not qualify for a maximum Federal Pell Grant may still be eligible if their calculated SAI is less than the maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the award year. The student’s Federal Pell Grant offer will be equal to the maximum Federal Pell Grant for the award year minus their SAI.

Students whose SAI is greater than the maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the award year may still be eligible for a “minimum” Federal Pell Grant based on family size, adjusted gross income, and poverty guidelines.

What if I had a low income and was not required to file taxes?

According to the IRS tax year 2022, these are the thresholds by filing status. If parents of a dependent student or an independent student (and spouse, if married) were not required to file a federal income tax return for 2022, the student will automatically receive a Student Aid Index (SAI) equal to –1500.

Why are assets reported different on the 2024-25 FAFSA?

For the 2024-25 award year, some financial information previously considered income will be considered as assets. Also, some information not requested previously, such as the family’s small business, will no longer be excluded from asset reporting.

If a student has an negative SAI, will they qualify for a higher Pell grant?

Students with a negative or 0 SAI will be eligible for the same (maximum) amount of Federal Pell Grant. The difference is that the negative -1500 SAI indicates the student has a higher need than the student with 0 SAI, which can be used for the priority awarding of other grants with limited funding, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).

If the family size is manually adjusted, will the SAI only be calculated based on the family size drawn from the taxes?

It will be based on the family size that the family entered, if different from the taxes. In this situation, students may have to provide additional information if selected for verification.