The Parent’s Guide to Completing the FAFSA From Start to Finish


The Parent’s Guide to Completing the FAFSA From Start to Finish

Although a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the student’s responsibility, parents take a large role in the process when a student is determined to be dependent. If you’re getting ready to help your child apply for federal student aid on the 2016–17 FAFSA, here’s what you should be doing over the next few months:

Before the FAFSA

  • Learn the basics of the federal student aid programs (grants, work-study, and loans) at Federal aid is intended to help cover the student’s cost of attendance (tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other education expenses.)
  • To familiarize yourself further with your child’s federal student aid options, read Do You Need Money for College? at
  • Encourage your child to maximize any available free money to help pay for college. There’s information and a free scholarship search at
  • Understand whether your child needs to provide parent information on the FAFSA. will help you determine if your child is dependent or independent.
  • Understand who counts as a parent for purposes of filling out the FAFSA. shares the definition of “legal parent” and discusses which parent’s information should be reported on the FAFSA when the legal parents are divorced or separated and not living together.
  • You and your child should get FSA IDs. An FSA ID is a username and password that you’ll be using to sign the FAFSA. You and your child each need your own FSA ID—and you each need to create your own for privacy purposes and because the information is easier to remember if you create your own. (Note: Only one of a student’s parents needs to sign the student’s FAFSA, so only one parent needs an FSA ID.)
  • You and your child will each need to gather these documents in preparation for the FAFSA:
    • Your Social Security number
    • Your Alien Registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
    • Your 2015 federal income tax returns, W-2s, and/or other records of money earned*
    • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
    • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
    • An FSA ID to sign electronically

*Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) once your tax form has been processed.

Filling Out the FAFSA

  • Completing the FAFSA is a question-by-question guide to the FAFSA. It offers help, hints, and definitions in case you get stuck on any of the questions.
  • Encourage your child to fill out the FAFSA before state and school deadlines, which may fall as early as February 2016. Students will be able to file a 2016–17 FAFSA beginning on Jan. 1, 2016.
  • Make sure your child goes to to fill out the application.
  • The FAFSA is your child’s application, so keep in mind when it says “you,” it means “you, the student.”
  • If you haven’t done your 2015 taxes before your child fills out the FAFSA, don’t worry. You can estimate the amounts, perhaps using your 2014 taxes to guide you.
  • If you’ve already done your taxes before your child fills out the FAFSA, use the IRS DRT to automatically insert tax information into the FAFSA.
  • If your family’s income has had a sudden drop (for instance, if a parent lost a job) that isn’t reflected in your 2015 tax information, gather documentation so that your child can present the situation to the financial aid administrator at the school.
  • If you want to understand where your Expected Family Contribution comes from, take a look at the EFC Formula workbook at
  • At the beginning of the application, your child will be asked to create a Save Key, which is a temporary password that lets you return to a partially completed FAFSA. If you and your child are accessing his or her FAFSA from different locations, your child should do his or her part and then share the Save Key with you. You’ll need to enter it to get access to your child’s FAFSA.
  • Be sure you or your child sees the confirmation page pop up on the screen so you’ll know the FAFSA has been submitted.
  • Read the FAFSA confirmation page carefully. There are a few differences between the e-mailed confirmation (which arrives later) and the one you see at the end of the application, so consider printing or saving the confirmation page before you exit.
  • Depending on your state, you may see a link on the FAFSA confirmation page to your state’s financial aid application. This will allow your child to transfer his or her information directly into the state aid application.
  • If you have more than one child attending college, select the option on the confirmation page to transfer your parent information into the other child’s FAFSA.
  • If you need help filling out the FAFSA, read the “Help and Hints” located on the right side of any page within the application; click “Need Help?” at the bottom of any page; or chat (in English or Spanish) with live technical support staff by clicking the “Help” icon at the top of any page, then selecting “Contact Us,” “Federal Student Aid Information Center,” and then “Chat with Us.”

Help Options on the FAFSA

After the FAFSA

  • Both you and your child will receive e-mails letting you know the FAFSA has been processed, assuming you both provided e-mail addresses on the FAFSA. It takes about three days for the FAFSA to be processed and sent to the school.
  • Double-check the information you reported on the FAFSA. You can make corrections if necessary.
  • During the winter or spring, your child will receive aid offers from schools. You can visit for more information on how to help your child understand and compare the types of aid as he or she decides what aid to accept and what to turn down.
  • Encourage your child to read all communications from the school carefully and to supply any additional information, forms, or signatures needed by the deadlines the school sets.

Courtney Gallagher is a junior studying English at Westminster College in Missouri. She is an intern for the Content Development team in the office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo by Getty Images.


  1. I successfully created username and password last night. They system wouldn’t let me (the parent) sign electronically. I then realized I had to wait until the SSA validated my information. Since then, today, I received an email from the SSA stating I was validated and that I should have access to all FSA sites. I tried using my username and password and it is still not working. Is there a longer wait after the SSA comes back with validation?

    • You mean you tried to use your FSA ID to sign your child’s FAFSA, and it still didn’t work? Can you double-check to make sure your name is typed out correctly in BOTH places? The FSA ID profile and the FAFSA you’re signing? This includes capitalization and any spaces. Your name must be exactly the same as it appears on your Social Security card.

  2. Hello I have a question,
    I work at a university and help at various fafsa workshops. I have known that if a parent does not have a social they enter all zeros. The fafsa has not been letting students submit the information if the parents say they will or have filed taxes. Basically the system is say if you don’t have a social how are you filing taxes. This is a recent issue. Because of this we cannot even get the student to the signature page. I have searched several sites and links and have found no information. If you could shed some light on this I would greatly appreciate it. Also a link to this info would be great. Thank you.

    • Do you mean the parent is having trouble signing their child’s FAFSA because they do not have a Social Security number? The parent can print a signature page and mail it to us. Someone without a SSN (the parent) will not be able to get an FSA ID, which is used to electronically sign their child’s FAFSA. However, if the student has an SSN, they should be able to get an FSA ID.

  3. Please help! We are divorced and share custody 50/50. On legal documents I have primary residence. For the parent section which parent info do I use? Everything I read says which ever parent has 51% custody but my son splits it 50/50. Also do I have to put my new husbands info in? He did not adopt my son. My sons dad is also remarried. Thank you!

  4. I receive social security each month for my son since his father passed away. I do not have to claim this on my taxes (due to my income), so it is not included in my AGI. As a result, do I need to report this amount elsewhere on the FAFSA? Each month, the remaining amount does go into a fiduciary account – do I count this as my asset or my son’s asset?

    • Yes, you do report it if it’s included in your child’s AGI. Students report their adjusted gross income (AGI) from their most recent tax return. AGI also includes Social Security. Use this table.

  5. How many times can we make corrections to the FAFSA? It seems no matter how much I read or reread a section I always make a mistake. And will the corrections affect the student aid package?

  6. When helping my son fill out new fasfa info it ask for scholarship, loan and grant info. Do these amounts go on parents info or student info section?

    • Not true. There are many factors that go into determining the types and amount of aid you get. Your eligibility depends on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school you will be attending. The financial aid office at your college will determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Most students are eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans regardless of EFC.

  7. I receive a Social Security monthly benefit for my daughter since her father’s death in 2002. The check is in my name “for” her. (She’s under age 18) Do we need to claim this as income and which one of us would need to list this?

    • The answer given is a little murky. You need to follow the IRS rules for whether or not you need to report SSI info on a tax return. If you are required to report it, then it would be included on her FAFSA as part of her AGI. There are some cases where SS benefits are not reported, therefore it would not and should not be entered on her FAFSA except to check the box that asks if anyone receives those types of benefits.

  8. I am a parent and a college Student. I have completed my fafsa for 2015. My daughter will be a college student 2016. Do we complete separate Fafsa applications for 2016, as we will both be students.

    • Yes. You have to report the total amount of child support you (and if married, your spouse) received in 2015 for all children in your household. If you were the person that paid child support, you enter that amount also.

  9. Respected Sir, I am Indian Citizen my son is studying in USA California last semister can my son can get fees payment from your funds please.

  10. Why is this designed as the Student’s Responsibility? Majority of high school students are not savvy enough to know all of the financial ins and outs of there parents. Placing the student as the primary responsibility is a latent hazard to erroneous information, missed deadlines, etc. I know of parents who children missed out on scholarships because they were not fully aware of the consequences of missed deadlines and incorrect data.

    • There is a section of the FAFSA for the parents to fill out, and if a student is dependent (which most High School seniors are), we require a parent signature. When a student begins their FAFSA, they can define a “Save Key.” They can share this Save Key to their parent, allowing their parent to access their application and add information. The parent can also sign their child’s FAFSA at this point. Signing the FAFSA requires an FSA ID, which serves as an electronic signature.

  11. Hi,

    I am the grandparent and my granddaughter lives with us and has lived with use for many years, we even have court ordered supervision for the child. That said My daughter still has sole custody after her divorce, and carries our granddaughter on her tax return. My question is who’s finical information should go into the application?

  12. Hi!,im cherry from Philippines.I just want to inquire if it possible that my 3 children in college can study there in United States.we are a Yolanda’s survivor from Tacloban we are in Lipa City Batangas.How can we start?do you have a financial aid to foreign national.we are here in Philippines.Thanks for time to reading my letter.I’m hoping that you can help us.


  13. I need help because it is very difficult to understand The system internet it is full Of fraud

  14. Are pension money considered part of the annual income? I work part time as as a 77 year old. Do I file this salary and social security benefits as my income? Interest from my pension is confusing me. Thank you.

    • Yes. Pensions must be reported as income on the FAFSA. As a parent, you report your adjusted gross income (AGI) from your most recent tax return. AGI also includes Social Security. Use this table:

      You can complete the FAFSA now even if you haven’t filed taxes yet. Just select “will file” and use 2014 tax info to estimate the financial information. Make sure you sign and submit with your FSA ID. Then, once you file 2015 taxes, log back in and update your child’s FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Detailed instructions:

  15. My child filled in the information independently, then asked me to completed the “parent information” part on the same screen with all our financial info. Will this cause us problems later on? Can/should I change it before I hit send?
    There are 2 younger siblings that will overlap in college eventually.

    • Your child followed the correct steps. There is a “Student” and a “Parent” section of the FAFSA. You can make corrections to the FAFSA after you sign and submit it. For instance, you can use 2014 tax info to estimate the financial information and sign the FAFSA early. Then, once you file 2015 taxes, log back in and update the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Detailed instructions:

      The FAFSA has a feature that allows the student to transfer their parent’s information into a sibling’s FAFSA. This option will appear on the confirmation page, and the transfer will only work if the sibling has NOT started a new FAFSA yet. When the student gets to the final step, they have the option of transferring information to a brand new FAFSA (your other child’s). Make sure everyone has an FSA ID before you do this! Screenshot:

  16. This is important set of information and I am grateful about it.

    My son filled out an application and I also filled my part. Filling out and submitting it was successful but three days later my son asked me “which year’s application was that we filled out?’
    I thought it was 2016/17 but as I see here 2016/17 one is to be released at January 1.

    My question is now if that was for 2015/16, he needs to fill it for 2016/17 as soon as possible?
    Does the FSA ID needs to be changed each time new application is filled out?

    Thank you

    • Is your son going to attend college between July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017? If so, then he should complete the 2016-17 FAFSA which is available January 1st. You can use the same FSA ID every year to renew the FAFSA. Your username does not expire, but your FSA ID password will expire every 18 months unless you change it.

  17. I lost my job in November so my w2 for 2015 is going to look like I am currently employed which I am not. How do I fill this out with out having source of income

    • You still complete it using 2015 tax information. Or, you can use 2014 info to estimate and update it later after you file 2015 taxes. About your situation, you can talk to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend and explain your situation. They are usually able to help if there was 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.

  18. The link to “Completing the FAFSA” (the step-by-step guide) above does not work. What is the correct link to that guide? Thanks.

    • Hi. Do you mean you wish to add a second student to a FAFSA that you have already filled out? That is not possible, since every FAFSA is unique to one individual (the student applying for financial aid). However, in the new 2016-17 FAFSA (available January 1st), there will be an option at the end of the application to transfer parent information to a new FAFSA if the applicant has a brother or sister who also needs to fill one out. This option comes up on the confirmation page and only works if the sibling has not already started a FAFSA of their own.

      • Sandra,
        In reference to this question I have a slightly different question. My daughter is now a sophmore in college, we filled out a FAFSA prior to her freshman year ’14-’15, but did not do so the next year (’15-’16) as she did not qualify for any assistance, now my son needs to complete a FAFSA as he is applying to colleges as a freshman for ’16-’17. She is still in college full time but does not need to complete a FAFSA. Do I start a new FAFSA for him and complete her info at the end or do it as her application and add him at he end. When we did her FAFSA we had PINS which have NOT been converted. Any info you could provide would be great!!

        • Since neither child has started a new 2016-17 FAFSA yet, it doesn’t matter which one starts first. You should still be able to transfer parent info at the end. This option will appear on the confirmation page, and the transfer will only work if the sibling has NOT started a new FAFSA yet. When the student gets to the final step, they have the option of transferring information to a brand new FAFSA (your other child’s). Make sure everyone has an FSA ID before you do this! Screenshot:

          Both of your children need FSA IDs. Also, one of their parents needs an FSA ID in order to sign their FAFSA. In total, you need 3 unique FSA IDs for your family. Remember, you cannot make one on behalf of your child. You do not need a PIN to create an FSA ID, but having one expedites the Social Security number verification which could take 1-3 days. You and your daughter’s PIN may have expired since the last time you used it, so if you tried to link your PIN but it’s unsuccessful, that’s OK.

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