Generally, the first step in applying for financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The schools you listed on the FAFSA will take that information and use it to calculate the financial aid you’re eligible for. Your financial aid awards may vary from school to school based on a number of factors including: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number of credits you will take each term, your cost of attendance (COA) at each school, your eligibility for state and institutional aid at each school, and your year in school. Keep in mind that many schools have a priority deadline, so the sooner you apply each year, the better. Here are 5 things that will help you better understand how financial aid is awarded:
We all know college is super expensive; not only do you have to pay tuition, but there’s also room and board (for those of you staying on campus), a meal plan (yay for cafeteria food…), and textbooks (buying hundred-dollar books for one chapter). It’s a lot. Luckily for us, there’s help: scholarships! Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be awarded any money, and sometimes it can seem like a whole lot of work for a whole lot of nothing. But that’s why I’m here! I’ve gone through the process recently (and am doing it again), and I’m at your service with suggestions and tips.
A lot of these tips come from StudentAid.gov/scholarships, so check out that page for a more comprehensive, detailed guide to scholarships.
Types of Scholarships
There are scholarships for almost everything—all you have to do is look. Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be tedious—find scholarships for things you’re passionate about. Some scholarships are really cool. There are scholarships for animal rescue, volunteering with the elderly, etc.; you can find them through specific organizations, too.
Did you submit your 2016–17 FAFSA® before you (and your parents, if you’re a dependent student) filed your 2015 taxes? If so, it’s time to return to your application to update the information you estimated with the actual numbers from your 2015 tax return.
The easiest way to update your tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). It allows you to transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA! Check to see if your tax return is available and if you’re eligible to use the tool. You usually have to wait a few weeks after filing your taxes before you can use the IRS DRT, but this tool can save you lots of time.
To update your FAFSA:
Go to fafsa.gov and click Login.
Students: Log in to the FAFSA using your FSA ID.
Parents: Your child must initiate the FAFSA correction process by logging in first, continuing to Step #3, and creating a Save Key*. If you need to make corrections to your child’s FAFSA, get the Save Key from your child. Once you do, you can log in by entering the student’s information. The FAFSA will ask you to enter the “Save Key” if you wish to continue.
*A Save Key is a temporary password meant to be shared between you and your child. It lets you and your child pass the FAFSA back and forth and allows you to save the FAFSA and return to it later. This is especially helpful if you and your child are completing the FAFSA, but are not in the same place.
Click Make FAFSA Corrections.
Navigate to the “Financial Information” section.
Change your answer from “Will file” to Already completed.
If you’re eligible to use the IRS DRT, you’ll see a Link to IRS button. If you’re not eligible to use the IRS DRT, you can manually enter the data from your completed tax return.
Click Link to IRS and log in with the IRS to retrieve your tax information.
- Enter the requested information exactly as it appears on your tax return.
- Review your information to see what tax data will be transferred into your FAFSA.
- Check Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA, and click Transfer Now to return to the FAFSA.
Review the data that was transferred to your FAFSA, and click Next.
Sign and submit your updated FAFSA using your FSA ID.
Once you’ve made updates at fafsa.gov, your changes will be processed in about three days. You’ll receive a revised Student Aid Report (SAR) showing the changes made to your application. Each school you listed on your FAFSA can access the revised information one day after it’s processed.
Remember, some state and school financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, log in today to update your FAFSA!
April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid
I’ll admit it. February is not my favorite month because it reminds me of tax returns, bad weather and well, finding my tax information. Ugh. If you are like me, a world-class procrastinator that agonizes every year at the thought of filing a tax return and submitting a FAFSA®, then you are not alone. You also know that it can be time consuming. So, here is why you should use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to instantly transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA:
1. What is the IRS DRT and how do I use it?
You can find the IRS DRT in the “Financial Information” section of the FAFSA. To use the tool, be sure to indicate that you already completed your tax return. Answer the remaining questions and log in using your FSA ID:
If your tax return information is available and if you are eligible to use it, you will be transferred to the tool. Make sure to provide your information exactly as you provided it on your tax return:
You will be able to preview your tax information before agreeing to have it directly transferred to your FAFSA.
When you return to the FAFSA, you’ll see the relevant questions populated with your information automatically. It’s that easy!
2. Why use this tool?
- It’s so easy that it only takes a couple of clicks to transfer all your tax information.
- It can be used by both students and parents.
- Most importantly, it is accurate so you don’t have to worry about entering the wrong tax information on your FAFSA.
3. When can I use the tool?
The IRS DRT is available the first Sunday in February. However, when your information will be available will depend on when you submitted your tax return. If you e-file your taxes, your information will be available to transfer 2-3 weeks after you file.
4. If I already completed the FAFSA using estimates, can I use the IRS DRT to update my FAFSA once I filed my taxes?
Yes, if you estimated, you will have to update your FAFSA once you have filed your taxes anyway. So why not use the IRS DRT? It’s the easiest way to update your FAFSA. To update your estimates, click “Make FAFSA Corrections” after logging in to fafsa.gov. Navigate to the “Financial Information” section and indicate that you have already completed your taxes. If your tax return information is available and if you are eligible to do so, you should follow the same prompts listed above to transfer your tax return information to your application.
5. Why can’t I use the IRS DRT?
If you’re not seeing the IRS DRT, there may be a few reasons why:
- It is not available for use yet.
- You indicated that you will file or are not going to file a federal income tax return.
- Your marital status changed after Dec. 31 of the previous calendar year.
- The student/parent filed a Form 1040X amended tax return.
- The student/parent filed a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return.
If you are not able to use the IRS DRT, don’t worry. Although you’ll be required to enter your tax information manually, we have great resources on StudentAid.gov that walk you through the process.
Now that you know the secret to transferring your tax information to the FAFSA, I hope you will enjoy the time you saved!
Zelma Barrett is a Management and Program Analyst at Federal Student Aid.
Congratulations! You submitted your 2016–17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)! Wondering what happens next? Here are a few things to look out for:
1. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR)
After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you’ll get your SAR within three days (if you signed your FAFSA online) or three weeks (if you mailed a signature page.)
Any student with an FSA ID can view and print his or her SAR by logging in to fafsa.gov and clicking on the appropriate school year. This is also where you can check the status of your application if you have not received your SAR yet. Once you get your SAR, you should review it carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete.
2. Review Your EFC
When reviewing your SAR, look for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number. Your EFC can be found in the box at the top of the first page of your SAR, under your Social Security number.
Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. This formula considers the following about you (and your parents, if you’re dependent):
- Taxed and untaxed income
- Benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security)
- Family size
- Number of family members who will attend college during the year
Schools use your EFC to determine your federal student aid eligibility and your financial aid award. However, it’s important to remember that your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Contact your school’s financial aid office if you have any questions about how they calculate financial aid.
3. Make Corrections If You Need To
It’s important to make sure that everything on your FAFSA is correct and complete, as your school may ask you to verify some of the information. Most of the questions on the FAFSA want to know your situation as of the day you sign the FAFSA. However, there are some instances in which you’ll want to (or be required to) change the information you reported.
TIP: You must wait for your most recent FAFSA submission to process before you can update or make corrections to your FAFSA. That usually take about three days.
Do you need to update any information?
- Log in with your FSA ID.
- Click “Make FAFSA Corrections.”
- Corrections should be processed in 3–5 days and you should receive a revised SAR.
- After you click “SUBMIT” you cannot make another correction until your FAFSA has been processed successfully.
Did you submit your FAFSA using income and tax estimates?
- Log in with your FSA ID.
- Navigate to the “Financial Information” section.
- Indicate that you have “Already completed” your taxes.
- If you are eligible, you will have the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If not, you may update your tax information manually.
Has your situation changed?
Most FAFSA information cannot be updated because it must be accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA. However, there are certain items that you must update. If there will be a significant change in your or your parent’s income for the present year or if your family has other circumstances that cannot be reported on the FAFSA, you should speak to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.
4. Review Your Financial Aid History
The last page of your SAR includes information about your financial aid history, specifically the student loans you have taken out. It’s important to keep track of how much you’re borrowing and to understand the terms and conditions of the loan.
TIP: You can always access your financial aid history by logging into My Federal Student Aid. Make sure you have your FSA ID ready.
5. Double-Check With Your Schools
Lastly, make sure that you double-check with the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to. Sometimes schools need additional paperwork or have other deadlines. You never want to leave money on the table!
Here’s a video on what happens after the FAFSA. You can find more videos on our YouTube channel.
Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
Ah, deadlines. The sworn enemy of students across the nation. When you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and a social life in whatever time you’ve got left, it’s easy to lose track and let due dates start whooshing by. All of a sudden, your U.S. history paper is due at midnight, and you still don’t know Madison from a minuteman. We get it.
Nevertheless, we’re here to point out a few critical deadlines that you really shouldn’t miss: those to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By submitting your FAFSA late, you might be forfeiting big money that can help you pay for college. Luckily for you, you’ve got just three types of deadlines to stay on top of. Now if only your Founding Father flashcards were that simple.
Here are those three deadlines:
The College Deadline
The first type of deadline comes from colleges themselves, and—spoiler alert—it’s typically pretty early. These deadlines vary from school to school, but they usually come well before the academic year starts, many in the neighborhood of early spring. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.
Many of these FAFSA due dates are priority deadlines. This means that you need to get your FAFSA in by that date to be considered for the most money. Many colleges have this date clearly marked on their financial aid pages. If you can’t find it, a call to the college’s financial aid office never goes amiss.
The State Deadline
The second deadline is determined by your home state. This deadline varies by state and can be as early as February 15 of a given year’s FAFSA application cycle (What’s good, Connecticut?). Some states have suggested deadlines to make sure you get priority consideration for college money, and some just want you to get the FAFSA in as soon as you can. States often award aid until they run out of money—first come, first served—so apply early.
You can check the deadline tool at fafsa.gov to see what the deal is in your state. You can also find that state-specific information on the paper or PDF FAFSA. In many cases, it turns out that state and school deadlines occur before you’ve even filed your taxes. If that’s the case, learn how to submit your FAFSA if you haven’t filed taxes yet.
The Federal Deadline
This last deadline comes from us, the Department of Education, aka the FAFSA folks. This one is pretty low-pressure. Our only time constraint is that each year’s FAFSA becomes unavailable on June 30 at the end of the academic year it applies to.
That means that the 2016–17 FAFSA (which became available Jan. 1, 2016) will disappear from fafsa.gov on June 30, 2017, because that’s the end of the 2016–17 school year. That’s right; you can technically go through your entire year at college before accessing the FAFSA. However, a few federal student aid programs have limited funds, so be sure to apply as soon as you can. Also, as we said, earlier deadlines from states and colleges make waiting a bad idea.
Why so many deadlines?
All these entities award their financial aid money differently and at different times. What they all have in common, though, is that they use the FAFSA to assess eligibility for their aid programs. So when a college wants to get its aid squared away before the academic year starts, it needs your FAFSA to make that happen. If you want in on that college money, you need to help the college out by getting your information in by its deadline. Same goes for state aid programs. Additionally, many outside scholarship programs need to see your FAFSA before they consider your eligibility for their money. If you’re applying for scholarships, you need to stay on top of those deadlines, too.
What happens if I miss the deadlines?
Don’t miss the deadlines. Plan to get your FAFSA in by the earliest of all the deadlines for your best crack at college money. By missing deadlines, you take yourself out of the running for money you might otherwise get. Some states and colleges continue awarding aid to FAFSA latecomers, but your chances get much slimmer, and the payout is often less if you do get aid. It’s better just not to miss the deadlines.
If you miss the end-of-June federal deadline, you’re no longer eligible to submit that year’s FAFSA. Did we mention not to miss the deadlines?
Across the board, the motto really is “the sooner the better.” So put off the procrastinating until tomorrow. Apply by the earliest deadline. Get your FAFSA done today!
Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the first step in accessing the more than $150 billion available in federal student aid. To help you get a head start on your FAFSA, below are the answers to the top 5 questions we’ve been getting on our Facebook and Twitter accounts:
1. What is an FSA ID and do I need one?
The FSA ID is a username and password you use to log in to your FAFSA. You should get an FSA ID before you start the FAFSA. If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, one of your parents needs an FSA ID too. Keep in mind that parents should not be making an FSA ID for their child or vice versa.
Parents will use their FSA ID to sign a dependent child’s FAFSA. However, if they are unable to get an FSA ID, they can mail a signature page.
Go here to get an FSA ID now. The FSA ID does not define if you are a student or parent, the process of getting an FSA ID is the same for both.
2. How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed 2015 taxes yet?
When filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2015 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t received their Form W-2, let alone completed their 2015 taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from submitting the FAFSA! If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.
If your 2015 income is similar to your 2014 income, use your 2014 tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income. If your income is not similar, use the Income Estimator for assistance estimating your adjusted gross income, and answer the remaining questions about your income to the best of your ability. If you do not know your parent’s tax information, we have a guide on how to complete the FAFSA if you and your parent are not together.
Note: Once you complete your 2015 tax return, you’ll need to update your FAFSA. When you do so, you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA. This allows you to transfer data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website.
3. When is the FAFSA deadline?
States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. It is important that you research all of these deadlines and complete the FAFSA by your earliest deadline. That being said, because some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.
4. Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?
Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college. If you filled out a FAFSA last year and want to renew it, go to fafsa.gov, click “Login”, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.
5. Which FAFSA should I complete?
When you log into fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA” and “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?
- If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA.”
- If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, select “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.”
Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.
TIP: If you need to fill out both applications, complete the 2015–16 FAFSA first. That way, when you complete the 2016–17 FAFSA, a lot of your info will automatically roll over.
If you are applying for a summer session, or just don’t know which application to complete, check with the college you are planning to attend.
We hope this answers some of your questions! If you have additional questions about the FAFSA, you leave us a comment below. We also have videos on our YouTube channel. For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.
Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
If your child is a dependent student and is applying for federal student aid, you—the parent(s)—may need to provide some of your information on and sign the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Now, it’s easier than ever for you and your child to complete the FAFSA…even if you’re not in the same place. Help is also available for every question, just look for the “Help and Hints” box on the right side of each screen.
Step 1: You and your child must each create an FSA ID
The first step to filling out the FAFSA is for you and your child to each create your own FSA ID, a username and password. The FSA ID replaces the Federal Student Aid PIN and is required to sign the FAFSA electronically.
IMPORTANT TIP #1: Do not create an FSA ID for your child. Let your child create his/her own. Otherwise, your child could experience problems or delays with his or her financial aid.
Step 2: Start the FAFSA
You or your child can start a new FAFSA. If your child starts the application, he or she should enter his or her FSA ID on the left side of the log-in page. But, if you start the application, select “Enter the student’s information” on the right. Be sure to follow the instructions on each screen to proceed.
IMPORTANT TIP #2: If the parent is starting the FAFSA, DO NOT enter your child’s FSA ID or your FSA ID on this page. Instead, click “Enter the student’s information.”
Step 3: Create a Save Key
After selecting which FAFSA you’d like to start, you’ll be given the option to create what’s called a “Save Key.” It’s a temporary password that lets you save an incomplete FAFSA, pass the FAFSA back and forth with your child, and return to the application later to add information. Think of it as your key to accessing the draft FAFSA.
IMPORTANT TIP #3: Once you create your Save Key, make a note of it. Unlike the FSA ID, you and your child can share the Save Key.
So, let’s say your child is away at school and starts his or her FAFSA. He or she can click the “SAVE” button at the bottom of the page and exit. You can then log in at FAFSA.gov using your child’s identifiers and the save key, and pick up where he or she left off!
From here, you can enter your financial information or any other information that’s missing from your child’s FAFSA.
Step 4: Sign and submit the FAFSA
After you and your child have filled out all the necessary information, you both need to sign the FAFSA. If you’re not in the same location, one of you can sign by navigating to the “Sign & Submit” section, entering your username and password (your FSA ID) clicking the “SIGN” button, saving, then closing the application. The other person can then log in at fafsa.gov using the Save Key, navigate to the “Sign & Submit” section, and sign the application using his or her FSA ID.
Make sure the parent who is signing with the FSA ID checks whether he/she is listed on the FAFSA as Parent 1 or Parent 2 and checks the appropriate box.
IMPORTANT TIP #4: You and your child should enter your own FSA ID in the correct spot—student above and parent below.
IMPORTANT TIP #5: If you are a parent without a Social Security number, you will not be able to create an FSA ID and will not be able to sign the FAFSA electronically. But, your child can submit the FAFSA without a parent signature, then print a paper signature page for you to sign and return by mail.
Once you and your child have signed the FAFSA, click the blue “SUBMIT MY FAFSA NOW” button at the bottom of the page. Your child’s FAFSA is not submitted until you see the confirmation page. It’s a good idea to print the confirmation page for your records. If your child provided an e-mail address, he or she will receive a copy of the confirmation page by e-mail.
Once your child’s FAFSA is submitted, it will take three to five days to process. Information on your child’s FAFSA will be made available to the financial aid offices of the schools listed. The school or schools will use the information to determine what aid your child may be eligible to receive.
IMPORTANT TIP #6: On the confirmation page, you’ll see an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Please note, the EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college or the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
The confirmation page also provides some financial aid estimates. Please keep in mind that these are true estimates. You may qualify for different amounts or additional types of aid. In order to find out the exact amount and types of aid you’re eligible to receive, you’ll need to wait to receive an aid award from each school you listed.
Photo by Getty Images.
April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.
If you’re a parent of a college-bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming. Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size? How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year? Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:
Does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?
Your child’s dependency status determines whose information must be reported on the FAFSA. Even if your child lives on his own, files his own taxes, and supports himself, he may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. If your child was born on or after January 1, 1993, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and will need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).
Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?
Our dependency guidelines are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. If your child is considered a dependent student, it doesn’t mean you, the parent(s), are required to pay anything toward your child’s education; this is just a way of looking at everyone in a consistent manner.
Which parent’s information should I include when completing the FAFSA?
If your child needs to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help.
Who’s considered part of the household?
When completing your child’s FAFSA, your household size should include parents, any dependent student(s), and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you. Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.
Do we need to wait to apply until I file my income taxes?
You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return. Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child fills out his or her FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize financial aid. If you haven’t filed your taxes by the time your child completes the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed. After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information. If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available February 7, 2016.
Do I need to do this every year?
Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid. The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!
What else do I need to know before I begin?
You and your child will each need to get an FSA ID, which is made up of a username and password. It is used to confirm your identity when accessing your financial aid information and to electronically sign the FAFSA. You can save time by getting your FSA IDs prior to starting the FAFSA.
Certain information and documents are necessary to complete the FAFSA and it’s good to have them handy before you begin. Here’s a checklist to help you get ready.
Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.
Photo by Getty Images.
Each year, more than 18 million people submit a FAFSA, and the U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion dollars in federal student aid. To protect the integrity of this important financial system and the private data of all of the students, parents and borrowers within it, it’s essential that only the FSA ID owner create and use their account.
Although the FAFSA is considered your application, one of your parents will have to provide some information on the FAFSA and sign it, if you are considered a dependent student. Any parent, who wants to electronically sign the FAFSA, will need his or her own FSA ID.
To avoid problems with your financial aid down the road, you (and your parent, if that applies) should create your own FSA ID. Don’t let anyone—not your teacher, your financial aid counselor, your mom or dad, your best friend, or your second and third cousins—create your FSA ID for you. And you should not create one for your parent or anyone else.
For starters, it’s against the rules. The FSA ID has the same legal status as a written signature, so you should treat it like such. You’re not supposed to let someone else sign your name on a tax form or a job application. Well, the same goes for your FAFSA.
Also, one of the primary reasons people have issues with their FSA ID and need to call our contact center for help is because someone else created their FSA ID. If you don’t make your own FSA ID you are less likely to know or remember your username and password. And if you get locked out or need a reminder of your username or password, you are less likely to know the answers to your challenge questions or have access to the e-mail address associated with your account.
Don’t miss an important deadline because someone else created your FSA ID, and you can’t reset your password!
In addition to signing the FAFSA, you can use your FSA ID to do things like
- import your tax information into your FAFSA from the Internal Revenue Service,
- view and print an online copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), and
- sign your master promissory note.
Creating an FSA ID is simple and only takes a few minutes. To save time when you and your parent are filling out the FAFSA, create your own FSA ID before you begin the application. For more information, visit StudentAid.gov/fsaid.
The 2016–17 FAFSA® is now available! The online FAFSA has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. Thanks to improvements like skip logic, where you only see questions that are applicable to you; and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows you to import your tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA application, the FAFSA takes less than 30 minutes to complete. Just make sure to take your time so you don’t make one of these mistakes:
1. Not Completing the FAFSA®
I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes too long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA, you are missing the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes little time to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.
2. Not Using the Correct Website
The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov. That’s .gov! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. If you’re asked for credit card information, you’re not on the official government site.
3. Not Getting an FSA ID Ahead of Time
We’ve made a big change to the FAFSA process this year in order to increase security. Students and parents can no longer use a Federal Student Aid PIN to log in and sign the FAFSA online. You must, instead, use the new FSA ID—a username and password. Once you register for an FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA. If you don’t want your FAFSA to be delayed, register for an FSA ID now. If you’re a dependent student, your parent will need to create an FSA ID too.
The key to making the FAFSA simple is being prepared. The process will go much smoother if you register for an FSA ID and gather everything you need to complete the FAFSA before you start the application.
4. Waiting to Fill Out The FAFSA Until After You File Taxes
Because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s important to fill out the FAFSA early. However, the 2016–17 FAFSA is available beginning January 1, 2016, well before most people have their 2015 taxes filed. This, however, shouldn’t stop you from getting the FAFSA submitted. If your income from 2014 is similar to your income from 2015, you can use your 2014 taxes to estimate the financial information on the FAFSA and get it submitted now. You can then update the FAFSA after you file 2015 taxes, preferably using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
5. Not Filing by the Deadline
States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA deadlines. To maximize the amount of your financial aid, you should fill out your FAFSA (and any other financial aid applications that may be required by your state or school), by the earliest of these three deadlines, if not sooner!
6. Not Reading Definitions Carefully
When it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each definition and question carefully. Too many students see delays in their financial aid for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.
Don’t rush through these questions:
- Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how your or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number.
- Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.
7. Inputting Incorrect Information
Here are some examples of common errors we see on the FAFSA:
- Confusing Parent and Student Information: I know there are many parents out there who fill out the FAFSA for their child, but remember, the FAFSA is the student’s application. When the FAFSA says “you” or “your”, it’s referring to the student, so make sure to enter the student’s information. If we are asking for parent information, we will specify that in the question.
- Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on official government documents. No nicknames.
- Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross check your social security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have a SSN, follow these instructions.
- Amount of Your Income Tax: Income tax is not the same as income. It is the amount of tax that you (and if married, your spouse) paid on your income earned from work. Your income tax amount should not be the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). Where you find the amount of your income tax depends on which IRS form you filed.
Tip: If you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, this number will be pulled for you, directly from your income tax return.
8. Not Reporting Parent Information
Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, and file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether or not you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.
Bonus: Who is my parent when I fill out the FAFSA?
9. Listing only one college
Two-thirds of freshmen FAFSA applicants list only one college on their applications. Do not make this mistake! Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add ANY college you are considering to your FAFSA, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted. It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these steps.
10. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering in the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This year, the tool will launch on February 7, 2016. In most cases, your information will be available from the IRS two weeks after you file. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent errors on your FAFSA and avoid any processing delays.
Tip: If you used income estimates to file your FAFSA early, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your FAFSA shortly after after you file your 2015 taxes.
11. Not Signing the FAFSA
So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID and submit it. This happens for many reasons, maybe they forgot their FSA ID, or their parent isn’t with them to sign with the parent FSA ID, so the FAFSA is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t have or don’t know your FSA ID, register for one. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.
Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.