We highly recommend every college student complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA every year. High school seniors will complete the form for the first time starting in October of their senior year. (The online form goes live on October 1st every year.) The very first step you need to complete, before starting the FAFSA, is obtaining an FSA ID. What is it and what do your clients need to know about it?
What is the FSA ID?
FSA ID stands for Federal Student Aid ID and is used by the U.S. Department of Education as your client’s students username and password combination. It provides a secure way to complete the FAFSA and access the form later. It also provides access to these websites: nslds.ed.gov, studentloans.gov, and studentaid.gov.
May seem like a simple thing, but with this ID your client’s student can sign forms electronically, access personal records, and make binding legal obligations (like federal student loans). So, this ID is more than just access to a website.
The security of the FSA ID is very important. Someone having access to the student’s ID could sign documents like loan paperwork in their name. Having the FSA ID is like having your written signature, so keep that information safe.
After graduation, your client’s student will still need their FSA ID.
After a student completes their undergrad degree, they still may need the FSA ID. It gives them access to (courtesy Student Loan Hero):
- Exit counseling
- Retrieving student loan info, such as lender information and total balance
- Applying for Direct Consolidation Loan
- Applying for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan.
Who needs an FSA ID?
Although (in theory) the student is the one completing the FAFSA, your client will still need to provide some financial information and sign the form electronically if the student is considered a dependent (which most undergrad students are). As a result, both the student AND one of the parents need an FSA ID.
How do you get one?
The FSA ID is created on a separate website from the FAFSA form itself. Click here to go to the site.
Side note, the FSA ID instructions point out that your clients are not allowed to create a FSA ID for someone else, even a family member. Parents should not create one for their student. They need to do it on their own. However, we know parents often take the lead on completing the FAFSA and all that that entails. The best idea is to sit down with theirr student to create FSA IDs (and later fill out the FAFSA) together. Great learning moment for how all these “grown up” tasks work.
Let’s get started.
To get started creating an FSA ID, simply fill in an email address. Next, they will need to create a unique username. The username must be from 6 to 30 characters long and can be any combination of numbers and/or uppercase or lowercase letters. They shouldn’t use any personal identifiers. Don’t use anything they’ve used before in other places. Be sure they write it down. A good idea is to keep this information written down in a good old fashioned paper file folder. They’ll need this info every year for the next four years. Knowing where to find it will save some sanity!
Next, create a password. The password must be between 8 and 30 characters long. Your client and their student can use any of combination of the following. They must choose three of the four criteria.
- Uppercase letters
- Lowercase letters
- Non-alphanumeric special characters ! @ # $ & * ( ) [ ] _ – . ?
As with all passwords, it is case-sensitive. Again, no personal identifiers. No password they have used elsewhere.
Remember, this username and password combination gains access to their personal financial information so they should make it as hard as possible on those hackers! The password will have to be changed every 18 months. (The fine detail on what is needed in a username or password can be found by clicking the little “?” on the FSA ID creation page.)
They will need to enter their name, date of birth, Social Security number, contact information, and challenge questions and answers.
If they have a Federal Student Aid PIN, they can link their FSA ID to the PIN. However, the PIN was discontinued and replaced by the current FSA ID system in 2015 so they probably don’t have a PIN and won’t be getting one.
Make sure they review their information. Read and accept the terms and conditions. Next, they’ll receive an email at the address they provided so they can confirm their identity, and they’re done!
They can use their FSA ID to sign a FAFSA right away. However, it takes the Social Security Administration one to three days to verify their information. They can’t log in with the FSA ID to any of the websites listed above including the FAFSA until they are verified.
If they receive an email saying their Social Security information does not match, double check that their Social Security number and date of birth they entered match their SSN card. (Another side note, be sure to use the student’s FSA ID when completing the FAFSA. They may run into another SSN match error if they entered a parent’s FSA ID when they created the form.)
If they’re not sure they’ve been verified? Visit this website and choose the “manage my FSA ID” tab. After logging in, they’ll see a “SSA Verification” box that will say either “Matched,” “Not Matched,” or “Pending.”
They can check this item off their “to do” list.
Our advice is to get the FSA ID taken care of now. They don’t have to wait until the FAFSA is live on October 1st to get one. Advise them to write down and save their information and tell them not to share it with others. They’ll be good to go!