Do you have to pay FAFSA® back?

Do you have to pay FAFSA® back?
Do you have to pay FAFSA® back?

“Do you have to pay the financial aid you get from FAFSA® back?” It’s one of the lingering questions students have before they accept a financial aid package.

It’s completely normal to be concerned about what you’ll have to pay back and what you won’t. The trickiest parts of the financial aid process are understanding your unique financial aid award package and what it means for your future.

That confusion might be lessened if you understand the difference between what you’re being offered. FAFSA® awards three different types of aid:

  • Grants & Scholarships (financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid)
  • Work-study Jobs (a part-time job where the money earned is applied towards tuition)
  • Loans (financial aid that needs to be repaid, with interest)

Here’s a more in-depth look at your financial aid options and when repayment might be necessary.

What FAFSA® aid do you have to pay back?

Wondering what the difference between a grant and a loan is? Confused about which ones you have to pay back and what circumstances might affect your future aid options? Let’s break it down.


Grants are considered gift aid, a type of financial aid based on financial need, that does not need to be repaid. You are automatically considered for grants when you file your FAFSA®.

They’re meant to provide financial assistance without the lingering threat of paying a loan back with interest. Like we mentioned, you don’t have to pay your grants back, except in a few special circumstances.

You might be wondering, what are the special circumstances in which you’ll have to pay a FAFSA® grant back? We got you cover.

You’ll have to pay a grant back if:

  • You withdraw from college
  • Your enrollment status changes (ex: going from being full-time to a part-time student)
  • You received outside scholarships or grants that reduce your need for federal student aid.

In other words, you can’t just take the money and run without finishing your education.


Unlike grants, you are required to pay your federal loans back. Federal student loans are more desirable for students that need them because they come at lower interest rates and with more flexible payment options than your typical private loans. But, unfortunately, they’re still loans and that means money out of your pocket later.

A lot of students try to avoid taking out loans, but sometimes it’s your only option for completing your education. Just be aware of the financial commitment you’re making with a loan.


Work-study programs are offered to graduate, undergraduate, and professional students that need extra financial assistance. It’s different from a grant because you have to work part-time in order to get the financial aid, but similar in that you do not have to pay the money back.

Always remember: financial aid should help you, not hinder you. If you have any questions, FRANK is here to help.