If you need financial aid to help you pay for college, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The 2016–17 FAFSA is available on January 1, 2016, at 12 a.m. Central Time. You should fill it out (for FREE) on the official government site, fafsa.gov.
To speed up the FAFSA process, get prepared early. Here is what you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA:
1. Your FSA ID*
On May 15, 2015, we changed the way you log into the FAFSA. You now need an FSA ID, instead of a PIN, to log in and sign your FAFSA online.
Anyone who plans to fill out the 2016–17 FAFSA should create an FSA ID as soon as possible. In some situations, you may need to wait up to 3 days to use your FSA ID after registering. If you want to avoid FAFSA delays, register for an FSA ID now.
If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, your parent will need to register for an FSA ID too. Because your FSA ID is equivalent to your signature, parents and students each need to create their own FSA IDs using separate e-mail addresses. Parents should not create an FSA ID for their child and vice versa.
2. Your Social Security number*
You can find the number on your social security card. If you don’t have access to it, and don’t know where it is, ask your parent or legal guardian or get a new or replacement social security card from the Social Security Administration. If you are not a U.S. citizen, but meet Federal Student Aid’s basic eligibility requirements, you’ll need your Alien Registration Number.
3. Your driver’s license number
If you don’t have a driver’s license, then don’t worry about this step.
4. Your tax records*
Use income records for the tax year prior to the academic year for which you are applying: so if you are filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you will need 2015 tax information. If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, don’t worry! You can still fill out the FAFSA now. Just estimate the amounts using your 2014 tax return and make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2015 taxes. After you file, you may be able to import your tax information electronically into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
5. Records of your untaxed income*
This includes variables that may or may not apply to you, like child support received, interest income and veterans non-education benefits. Parents can find specific details here. Students can find details here.
6. Records of all your assets (money)*
This includes savings and checking account balances, as well as investments like stocks and bonds and real estate.
7. List of the school(s) you are interested in attending
Two-thirds of freshmen FAFSA applicants list only one college on their applications. Don’t make this mistake! Be sure to list any school you’re considering, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted yet. The schools you list on your FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically. They will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of financial aid you may receive. If you add a school to your FAFSA and decide not to apply, that’s OK. The school likely won’t award you aid until you’ve been accepted anyway. You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, you can add more later.
TIP: To be considered for state aid, several states require you to list schools in a particular order (for instance, you might need to list a state school first). Find out whether your state has a requirement for the order in which you list schools on your FAFSA.
*If you’re a dependent student, you will need this information for your parent(s) as well.
Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.