True or False? You Can Fill Out Your FAFSA Before Filing Taxes

Taxes Schmaxes

TRUE! You might have heard that you can’t complete the 2016–17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) until you file your 2015 taxes. This is actually a myth! The FAFSA allows you to use estimated financial information if you select “Will file” on the question about whether you’ve completed your 2015 tax return.

2016-17 FAFSA Will File Taxes

Click to enlarge.

The subsequent questions will ask about “2015” financial information, but you’re allowed to use 2014 numbers in these fields for now so you can get your FAFSA submitted early. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble for using estimated financial information; just make sure you update your FAFSA after you and/or your parents file 2015 taxes. Below are answers to common questions about submitting a FAFSA before filing taxes.

Why is it important to fill out the FAFSA early?

Some states, schools, scholarships, and other aid programs have deadlines that occur before you’re able to file taxes. If you wait, you could miss out on that money unless you use estimates and submit the FAFSA early. Did you know that some aid is first come, first served? That means once the pool of funding runs out (awarded to the early birds), there won’t be any money left for late FAFSA filers. You can find state deadlines on the FAFSA website.

2016-17 FAFSA Deadlines Page

However, we do not have a listing of every school’s deadline since they’re all different. You have to check with each school about their FAFSA deadline. If there is a scholarship or grant you’re applying for, check their FAFSA deadline too. Submit your FAFSA by your earliest deadline to maximize your financial aid.

 

How do I fill out the FAFSA if I haven’t filed taxes?

If your income from 2015 was similar to your income from 2014, use your 2014 taxes to estimate your financial information. If your 2015 income was very different from your 2014 income, use the income estimator (available within the FAFSA) to estimate financial information rather than basing your estimates on your 2014 taxes. Just click on the blue Income Estimator button, and the calculator will expand.

2016-17 - FAFSA Income Estimator

Click to enlarge.

How do I update my FAFSA once I’ve filed taxes?

After you file taxes, click Make FAFSA Corrections after logging in to fafsa.gov. Navigate to the “Finances” section and change your tax filing status to “Already completed.” From here, the FAFSA has a tool that allows you to automatically import tax information from the IRS into your FAFSA. This is called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) and it will be available on Feb. 7, 2016. You may not be able to use the IRS DRT immediately after you file taxes. You have to wait a few weeks after you file taxes before your tax data can be imported into the FAFSA.

2016-17 - Taxes Completed

Click to enlarge.

TIP: Check out our blog with a step-by-step guide on how to use the IRS DRT!

After importing your tax information into the FAFSA, sign and submit your FAFSA. Remember, if you don’t see the confirmation page at fafsa.gov, you haven’t submitted your FAFSA yet. Be sure to read all the instructions as you sign and submit the FAFSA, and look for that confirmation page before you close your browser. Got it? Okay! Go meet those deadlines!


Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

22 Comments

  1. I’m hoping that someone can assist me or direct me where to go from here, but I’m getting confused with what I am supposed to be applying for and through what department. My mom is disabled and on SSDI, I have been told by her accountant that I am not filling the correct form out. That I needed to be on the government site, um isn’t this the only place to go? I’m not sure what else to try for help with aid since she pays no taxes, is there any chance you could please point me in the right direction if I am wrong place? Thank you!

  2. Hello, so I wanted to ask a question about inputting my parents’ 2015 taxes.

    When my parents complete their tax returns, can I immediately record them onto my FAFSA manually instead of waiting for the IRS tool to be available (because I read online somewhere that it is only available a couple of weeks after submitting taxes)? My school counselor said I can input them manually, and I feel I would prefer this way. I just don’t know if I can correct my FAFSA immediately after filing taxes.

    • Yes, you can definitely update your FAFSA manually. This is recommended if your school has a deadline for when they want to receive your updated information. They need accurate info in order to create an aid package for you. However, if you’re able to wait a few weeks to use the IRS DRT, we highly recommend using the tool for several reasons:

      1.) It’s the easiest way to provide your tax return information.
      2.) It’s the best way of ensuring that your FAFSA has accurate tax return information.
      3.) It may eliminate the need to provide additional documentation to your college (for instance, if you’re selected for verification).

      Use this table to determine when your tax return info will be available in the FAFSA.

  3. Judi says:

    January 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    A general question that I can’t find the answer to anywhere:

    Why are the parent and student information sections in the same document? I want and need financial aid for my children but do not want them to know my income and other personal financial information. I think that is a reasonable request, but the repeated “Warning: Do not continue if you are not the student” make it difficult to continue.

    Reply

    Sandra Vuong Sandra Vuong says:

    January 26, 2016 at 10:13 am

    The student is the owner of their FAFSA, not the parent.

    The student is the owner of his or her education. Family members who fund that education, with that funding, now share in ownership of any process that offers opportunity to reduce the funding required of them.

    A student that must provide all of his or her funding beyond what aid provides should fully own the process, and with it the FAFSA. However, a student that relies upon parental funding is in a different situation which the new approach, and your comments, chooses to not recognize.

    There is no legitimate justification for those outside the family (federal government, Department of Education, financial aid officers) to dictate to parents what they must tell their teenage and twenty-something children about the family’s finances. That is a decision to be made within the family.

    By sharing in the funding of their children’s education, parents become co-owners of any process that could reduce the funding they would need to provide. It is reasonable for the process to ensure financial aid decisions are based upon accurate information. It is not reasonable for the process to impose a system of family governance as this one appears intended to.

  4. I filed our FAFSA using 2014 income. Once our taxes were completed by our accountant last week (but not officially received by the IRS), we updated our FAFSA with 2015 income information, not using the IRS retrieval tool since it was unavailable. Now we have been selected for verification. Is there any way to avoid the verification process and go back in to FAFSA to update using the IRS retrieval tool after the approximate 3 weeks for the IRS to receive our 2015 taxes?

    • You cannot “avoid” verification. Some people are selected for verification at random; and some schools verify all students’ FAFSAs. You can still login and make corrections using the IRS DRT. If you use the IRS DRT and don’t change any of the retrieved information in your FAFSA, you won’t need to provide tax transcripts if you’re selected for verification. That doesn’t mean using the IRS DRT exempts you from verification. Follow instructions provided by the school so you can complete verification as soon as possible so you can meet all your deadlines. Choose the option that will complete verification fastest (this might be providing tax transcripts since the IRS DRT isn’t available immediately after you file.)

  5. I filed the FAFSA (completed, signed and submitted) based on estimates which are pretty close, because I had worked through TURBOTAX to the end. However, I haven’t filed my taxes yet. The reason I haven’t filed my taxes yet is that I owe $1725, and don’t want to pay till mid-April. Does it matter to the financial aid system if I don’t actually file till April 15th?

    • You should be fine. The only drawback is you won’t be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to update your FAFSA until you pay the full amount due. After you pay it, it’ll take several weeks for your tax info to be available to transfer into your FAFSA. We encourage everyone to use the IRS DRT because it has several benefits, one of them is you won’t need to provide tax transcripts if you’re selected for verification.

  6. I have a 21 year old friend whose parents refuse to give her their tax information. They do not claim her as a dependent. Can she fill out the FAFSA without her parents? She lives with her dad but pays all of her own bills. She is working full time and not going to school yet because she can’t afford to pay the tuition. Thank you!

    • Yes, she can still file her FAFSA if her parents are unwilling to provide their financial information. Answer “no” to being able to provide parent information and also “no” to the special circumstance question. There is a catch, however. She may only qualify for unsubsidized loans. She will have a better chance at being eligible for other types of federal aid (such as the Pell Grant or subsidized loans) if she provides her parent information. Also, it doesn’t matter if her parents do or don’t claim her on their taxes. That makes no difference on the FAFSA.

  7. hey – i completed FAFSA this week and used my 2014 income, both wife and I are self-employed so estimating 2015 is trickier…… am i better off leaving the info that was input via the IRS interface for 2014 or trying to come up w/ a very rough guess about income for 2015??? 1 child starting college in fall of 2016

    • It depends if your income in 2015 was very different from 2014. Try to provide information that is as close as possible to 2015 numbers. If your 2015 income was very different from your 2014 income, use the income estimator (available from within the FAFSA) to estimate financial information instead of 2014 taxes, that way you can still submit your FAFSA early and your income estimates will be accurate. However, if your 2015 income is very similar to 2014, then use 2014 tax info to submit the FAFSA now. You can use the IRS DRT later to update your info.

  8. If you use an estimate or the previous year’s tax information to complete the FAFSA early, do you sign and submit the application once you’ve completed all fields, then, after filing taxes open the application again, sign and submit a second time around?

  9. Sandra, I filed a FAFSA application today, thinking it was right on time for Feb 1 deadlines, even a little early, but now I’m afraid the colleges won’t receive the application by Feb 1. Will my applications to these colleges be okay?

    • Each college has their own deadlines for submitting the FAFSA. You have to check each school’s website to find out what that date is. If you’re talking about applying to the college as a student, that’s completely different from the FAFSA. The FAFSA is a form to see how much federal financial aid you may be eligible for, not a college application form. It’s OK to complete a FAFSA before you’ve been accepted to a college. We will send your FAFSA information to each college you list. If you get accepted, they will send you an award package explaining how much aid you’re eligible to receive. Each school will send you a different package, so compare them and choose wisely!

  10. Hi! So my earliest FAFSA deadline is February 15th. My dad says he won’t have his tax papers by then and I’m not sure I’ll have mine either. I know I can edit that stuff before submitting, but can I submit the estimates in order to have my FAFSA in by the 15th and still edit it after submission once we know the 2015 numbers?

  11. A general question that I can’t find the answer to anywhere:

    Why are the parent and student information sections in the same document? I want and need financial aid for my children but do not want them to know my income and other personal financial information. I think that is a reasonable request, but the repeated “Warning: Do not continue if you are not the student” make it difficult to continue.

      • The student is the owner of his or her education. Family members who fund that education, with that funding, now share in ownership of any process that offers opportunity to reduce the funding required of them.

        A student that must provide all of his or her funding beyond what aid provides should fully own the process, and with it the FAFSA. However, a student that relies upon parental funding is in a different situation which the new approach, and your comments, chooses to not recognize.

        There is no legitimate justification for those outside the family (federal government, Department of Education, financial aid officers) to dictate to parents what they must tell their teenage and twenty-something children about the family’s finances. That is a decision to be made within the family.

        By sharing in the funding of their children’s education, parents become co-owners of any process that could reduce the funding they would need to provide. It is reasonable for the process to ensure financial aid decisions are based upon accurate information. It is not reasonable for the process to impose a system of family governance as this one appears intended to.

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