Personal Finance

FAFSA fumble: Millions still waiting for financial aid letters

Delays in the federal financial aid system have left millions of college students in limbo this year. Here's what parents and students can do.

FAFSA fumble: Millions still waiting for financial aid letters
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Millions of college students rely on the FAFSA federal student aid program to help pay their tuition. But this year, delays in that program are leaving many students in limbo, with some unsure if they can go to the college of their choice.

On college campuses across the country, as a result, students are stressing over their financial aid for next year.

College sophomore Faith Jackson is still waiting for her letter, saying, "They are not sending them out like they were going to when they first announced it."

She says she and her friends now don't know if they can enroll in summer school programs.

FAFSA delays cause stress for students and schools
FAFSA delays cause stress for students and schools

FAFSA delays cause stress for students and schools

The new FAFSA form is shorter and easier to fill out — but delays in its availability are creating stress for those who depend on financial aid.

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No answers for another month

As a result of the delays, high school seniors and college students won’t know how much need-based financial aid they will receive until late March or early April. Adding to the stress: You have to reapply for FAFSA aid every year since family financials change over four years.

Joe Messinger is the director of college planning at Capstone Wealth Partners. He says efforts to improve the system are taking much longer than expected.

"There were good intentions," he said, "but the FAFSA Simplification Act is not that simple because you've got billions of dollars at play."

He says lower-income families will be most impacted by the delay because many are now left hanging over whether they can enroll in school next year. That has prompted the Government Accountability Office to open two new investigations.

Messinger believes the botched rollout is due in part to the congressionally mandated form changes and hiccups in modernizing an antiquated system.

Caleb Silver, editor-in-chief of Investopedia, said, "Everyone's waiting, everyone's getting the same emails, and they're very confusing."

While nearly 5 million students have successfully completed the new FAFSA form so far, that’s just a fraction of last year’s total of more than 17 million.

So what can students do?

"The best thing you can do is make sure your forms are ready," Silver said. "So when that deadline hits and when those schools are accepting, you're good to go."

The Department of Education will spend $50 million to deploy personnel to college campuses nationwide to help navigate the issues. But for students and parents, frustration is growing.

Messinger says you just need to try to be patient.

"Understand there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "Everybody else is waiting, just like you. So try to be patient."