How to Get The Most FAFSA Money and Pell Grant Awards

Maximize FAFSA and Pell Grant Money.

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If you want to legitimately get the most FAFSA money for your college education, follow these tips and tricks. You’ll get maximum federal student aid in Pell Grants by following our research when you fill out your FAFSA application.

Debt-Free College Series # 4 – FAFSA and Financial Aid

We have  5 kids who have attended college, and we have filled out FAFSA applications with every single one of them.

As a matter of fact, we’ve filled out the FAFSA application several times with each of them.

In the process, we’ve learned several tips from our own experience and from financial aid experts.

In this blog, we’ll share tips and tricks with you, and show you how to maximize the FAFSA application process and receive more Pell Grant money.

What is FAFSA Pell Grant?

There is no such thing as FAFSA Pell Grant. FAFSA and the Pell Grant are two separate, but related things.

  • FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form you fill out with your student to qualify to receive Federal Pell Grant money. The information on your FAFSA application is also used by most institutions of higher education to determine your eligibility for other types of financial aid.
  • Pell Grant: This financial grant was first established in 1972. It was originally called the Basic Educational Opportunities Grant (BEOG). But renamed the Pell Grant in 1980. It was renamed after Senator Claiborne Pell from Rhode Island, to honor his efforts in creating the program.

    How Much is the Pell Grant Worth? 
    The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $6,895 for the 2022-2023 school year.

Note: Just to clarify the two terms. You don’t receive FAFSA moneyYou fill out the FAFSA and are awarded Pell Grant money.

Changes to the FAFSA Application in 2022

The online FAFSA form was updated in October of 2022 to give it a similar look to the other tools on

The best thing about the changes is that the form now only has 36 questions for the applicant to answer, down from the 108 questions previously. So this should shorten the amount of time you’ll need to set aside to apply.

There will be more changes coming in the 2023-2024 school year.

How Much Time Does it Take to Apply for Pell Grant Money?

As nice as it is to get grant money, it’s not all “free,” There is some work to be done and deadlines to be met.

But if you do invest your time (between 4 and 8 hours), the payback can be substantial. Even if you’re not sure that you qualify for Pell Grant money, we recommend filling out the FAFSA the first year to find out.

FAFSA Money Filing Deadline

You have until June 30 of the current school year to file your FAFSA, but most schools distribute their allocated Pell Grant and other financial aid on a first come basis, so the earlier you file, the better your chances are to receive the maximum amount of aid.

In the past, we focused on filing FAFSA around February 1st. Now the filing starts in October each year (read about this change below).

After you’ve filed for your child the first time, reapplying for financial aid gets easier because the FAFSA website pulls forward your previous information and allows you to simply adjust it for the current year.

Documentation Needed to Maximize FAFSA Money

You’ll need some time to gather recent bank statements, tax returns and other sizable, non-retirement assets you may have.

What you do need to declare:

  • Bank balances (savings/checking) Parents & Student
  • Cash on hand: Parents & Student
  • Filed Income Tax Returns (Parents & Student)
  • Non-retirement assets (including college savings 529 Plans)   Caution: Set up ownership of 529 plans carefully as it can greatly affect the amount of financial aid received. This Reuters article explains this in depth. Get the specific definition of a 529 Plan from

What you don’t need to declare:

  • Retirement Assets including 401(k), 403(b),  SEP-IRA, IRA, Pension plans
  • Home Equity
  • Life Insurance policy’s cash value
    • Settlements received from a life insurance policy would be counted as an asset.
  • A Family controlled small Business, provided you have 50% ownership and fewer than 100 employees. Assets usually don’t have to be declared.
  • Family Farms are excluded also.
  • The Net worth of investments – not including your home.
  • The total value of Tangible Assets such as cars, furniture, and clothing.

Evaluating Student Assets

If your child has money in savings or has been given money by a generous relative, you may want to save it differently. Consider putting the money in your name or giving it back to the relative to hold as a “scholarship.”

Student assets are weighted more heavily than parents’ assets in the calculation for Pell Grant money.

Evaluating Parents Assets

The Federal Government has calculated that 5.6% of a parent’s assets should be available to pay for college costs.

They call this calculation the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). In future years the EFC will be phased out to be replaced with something called the Student Aid Index (SAI).

This new evaluation mechanism removes the number of students in college from a single family from the calculation. It also streamlines the eligibility for federal Pell Grants. In the meantime, you can show a minimum SAI of -$1,500 (negative number), whereas the lowest you could set your Expected Family Contribution was $0.

To help maximize your student’s Pell Grant award you may want to move some of your money. It’s a smart idea to move assets into non-reported categories.

Some Non-Reported Categories include:

  • Retirement plans
  • Paying down debt
  • Making other large purchases that you have the cash for (cars, furniture, rental properties.

This way you will increase the amount of Pell Grant money your student could be eligible for, and also reduce your expected EFC.

If you want to explore other college money ideas, watch this video where Steve & Annette interview Jocelyn Pearson. She earned $126,000 in college scholarships and now helps other families do the same thing.

The FAFSA Website is now

Make sure you go to the official FAFSA website.

  • In the past was a website that posed as the official FAFSA website, charging for some services. Thankfully the fakers were shut down and now the link forwards to the official FAFSA site.
  • website has been eliminated also. In the past, it had some FAFSA information. Then in 2017, it was forwarded to This is an informative website started by Mark Kantrowitz, founder of the scholarship website site is a great resource for helpful information on college funding options.
  • has also been shut down.

The Site you want to go to is


Your first step is to apply for FSA ID so you can electronically sign your FAFSA application. Basically, it’s an independent username and password for both you and your student.

Keep these in a safe place as you will need it each year you file or update your FAFSA information.

How to File the FAFSA

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, it’s ok to initially file the FAFSA with estimated income information based on your 1099 and/or W-2 forms, or use the last paycheck stub of the tax year.

If you have filed your taxes already you can import the information from the IRS website – we know, it’s a little scary that they allow all of this personal information to fly around in cyberspace. Once you’ve filled out all of the information, you and your student will be asked to electronically sign your FAFSA with your FSA ID.

Selecting Schools

FAFSA then asks you which schools you want FAFSA information to be distributed to. You can select up to 10 different institutions. Pick at least 5 schools, and see what happens. You can add more schools later if you want to.

Save It!

You’ll also want to save a copy of the FAFSA by visiting the summary page. We kept a .pdf on our computer in each of our kid’s college folders. You’ll receive an email confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted. You can go in and update the FAFSA at any time, but the changes will take some time to process.

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FAFSA: Grant Money and Marriage

Our daughter Abbey was married in June 2014 before her Junior year of college to Collin (also a Junior).  Had we filed her FAFSA in February, she would have received about $2500 in Pell Grant funds.

But because we learned that you cannot change your filing status from a single dependent to married in the same year, we waited until a week after they were married to fill out FAFSA.

As a result, they both received $5500 in FAFSA money, the maximum Pell Grant amount given for that year.

Appeal: Get a Professional Judgment Review

What if you had a financial hardship, a major change in income (greater or lesser income), or some other extenuating financial circumstance? You can request a meeting with a Financial Aid officer at your school of choice and ask for a Professional Judgment Review.

Here’s what we’ve done.

When our third book was released several years ago, we received two sizable book advances from our publisher in one year. This created an abnormal spike in our income and caused the amount of aid our kids would receive to plummet.

We met with a financial aid advisor at our son Joe’s college and brought in the previous year’s income statements.

We explained that these advances needed to cover several years of living expenses (you know how we stretch money, right?) and in a matter of days he was awarded more Pell Grant money. Local financial aid professionals have been given the authority to override standard distributions.

As your student enters their Junior year of high school it would be a “MoneySmart” move to meet with an accountant or another college/FAFSA savvy tax person. This person should be able to help adjust your assets so that you can maximize your access to grants and credits.

This will help to minimize your students out of pocket costs for college.

Maximum Pell Grant

The maximum Federal Pell Grant award was $6,095 for the 2018–19 school year (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019). This was a $175 increase from the previous year. But in 2022 the maximum a student could receive was $6,895.

FAFSA Filing Deadline for the 2023-2024 School Year

There was a major shift in the earliest dates you could file your FAFSA application that started in 2015 and continues to this day.

In the past, you could apply for FAFSA in January of the year your child would start college (usually in the Fall). This meant that you had to rush to file your taxes as early in January as you possibly could, so you had accurate financials to input on the FAFSA application.

In 2015 the early filing date was pushed back to the previous October. This reduced the pressure to file current-year taxes – whew, what a relief. To understand more details about this and other FAFSA changes, read these articles from Kiplinger.

Regarding Filing Deadlines, says the following:

2023–24 Academic Year

The FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2024. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 14, 2024.

2022–23 Academic Year

The FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2023. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 9, 2023. has a page built to help you see filing deadlines for several upcoming school years.

Filling out FAFSA to get a maximum Pell Grant award isn’t impossible, but it does take planning and careful preparations. And if you are “fortunate enough” to have several kids going to college, you’ll become an expert at minimizing how much FAFSA money you’ll need to pay for your child’s education.

Do you have any other tricks or tips for filling out FAFSA? If so, please let us know in the comments below.

We cover FAFSA money and many more tips for getting through college without borrowing in our audio seminar: Debt Free College: Fantasy or Reality

Our 3rd book The MoneySmart Family System: Teaching Financial Independence to Children of Every Age, has an entire chapter on college. It is the largest chapter in the book!

More Resources:

Read all of the Debt-Free College Blog Series Here:

  1. 6 Ways High Schoolers can Crush College Costs
  2. Student Loan Forgiveness Programs: How to get loans discharged legally
  3. Is There Gold at the End of the Scholarship Rainbow? Hack!
  4. How to Maximize FAFSA and Pell Grant Money!
  5. 10 Out of the Box Ideas for Big Time College Savings
  6. How to Eliminate College Debt
  7. How one kid got a college degree in 22 months for $3100 (you could too)

    How to Maximize FAFSA money and Increase Your Pell Grant.

FAQs About FAFSA and Federal Pell Grands

This is a growing list of questions that we regularly receive about FAFSA and Pell Grants.

How Do I Get a Pell Grant? 

Read this blog and fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before the deadline.

What is the Max Pell Grant I can Get?

The maximum amount of Pell Grant money you can receive usually changes from year to year. In this blog, we track the amount each year. It is now in excess of $6000.

Is FAFSA Money Free?

There is no such thing as “FAFSA Money.” FAFSA is the application that allows you to earn Pell Gran Money. Usually, Pell Grant awards don’t have to be paid back. However, there are some instances where it does have to be returned. If you don’t follow the rules and use the money for educational purposes, there may be consequences.

What is the Earliest Date I Can Submit my FAFSA Application

October 1st is now the earliest you can file each year.

How Does Lowering Parental Income Affect Pell Grant Awards?

Every $10,000 reduction in parent income will increase aid eligibility by about $3,000.

How Does Lowering Student Income Affect Pell Grant Awards?

Every $10,000 reduction in student income will increase aid eligibility by about $5,000.

2 thoughts on “How to Get The Most FAFSA Money and Pell Grant Awards

  1. Stacy R

    Question. I make $40k year. Have rental property, makes $10k year. The rental worth $124k. Two kids in college.
    Do I have to claim this rental on FAFSA? I have 0 in savings. $2k in checking. $36k in IRA.
    Thx for your reply.

    1. Steve Economides Post author

      Stacy, We aren’t tax experts, but you do pose a great question and this post answers it –
      It really depends on how the property is owned. If it’s held within an IRA it probably doesn’t need to be declared. If it’s run as a small business – it’s also may not need to be reported. Read the article and consult with a good accountant. Legally moving the property in the right category could mean more FAFSA for your kids. But you’ll have to weigh the benefits with the potential costs of making the move.

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