7 Things You Need Before You Fill Out the FAFSA

7 Things

If you need financial aid to help you pay for college, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The 2017–18 FAFSA is available now! The FAFSA launched on October 1, 2016—three months earlier than usual—at 12 a.m. Central time. You should fill it out as soon as possible 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:

If you’re a dependent student, you will need certain information for your parents as well; we’ve indicated each of those items with an asterisk (*) below.

1. Your FSA ID*

An FSA ID is a username and password that you must use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites, including fafsa.gov.

  • Anyone who plans to fill out the 2017–18 FAFSA should create an FSA ID as soon as possible.
  • If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, your parent should create 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 email addresses. Parents should not create an FSA ID for their child and vice versa.
  • In some situations, you may need to wait up to three days to use your FSA ID after creating it. If you want to avoid FAFSA delays, create your FSA ID now.

Create an FSA ID (button)

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 2015 tax records*

Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you will be required to report income information from an earlier tax year.

  • On the 2017–18 FAFSA, you (and your parents, as appropriate) will report your 2015 income information, rather than your 2016 income information.
  • You do not have the option to report your 2016 tax information. We understand that for some families, 2015 income doesn’t accurately reflect your current financial situation. If you have experienced a loss in income since the 2015 tax year, you should complete the FAFSA with the info it asks for (2015), and then contact each of the schools to which you’re applying to explain and document the change in income. They have the ability to assess your situation and make adjustments to your FAFSA.
  • You cannot update your 2017–18 FAFSA with your 2016 tax information after filing 2016 taxes. 2015 information is what’s required. No updates necessary; no updates allowed.

5. Records of your untaxed income*

The FAFSA questions about untaxed income may or may not apply to you, but they include things like child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits. On the 2017–18 FAFSA, you’ll report 2015 tax or calendar year information when asked these questions. 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 such as stocks and bonds and real estate. You should report the current amounts as of the date you sign the FAFSA, rather than the 2015 tax year amounts.

7. List of the school(s) you are interested in attending

Two-thirds of precollege FAFSA applicants list only one school on their applications. For many, that could be a mistake.

  • Be sure to add any college you’re considering, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted yet. This is more important than ever now that the FAFSA is launching earlier! Even if there is only a slight chance you’ll apply to a college, add it to your FAFSA. You can always remove schools later if you decide not to apply, but if you wait to add a school, you could miss out on first come, first served financial aid.
  • 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 later decide not to apply for admission to that school, that’s OK. The school likely won’t offer you aid until you’ve been accepted anyway.
  • You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA at a time. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, here’s what you should do.

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.


Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
Photo by Getty Images.

40 Comments

  1. My friend mother abandoned her a few years ago and left her with her oldest sister who has been claiming her on her taxes do they need to find the mother and get her tax information

    • First, it doesn’t matter who claims the student on tax forms. That information is not relevant to your FAFSA. Second, your friend can still complete the FAFSA even if their parent is unwilling to provide their information. They will answer “no” to being able to provide parent information and also “no” to the special circumstance question. The downside is your friend might only qualify for unsubsidized loans. If your friend was able to provide parent info, that gives her a chance at getting subsidized loans (which are better) or even a Pell Grant (which doesn’t have to be repaid). Providing some parent info is better than none. She should also check with her school’s financial aid office for further assistance with her unique situation. More info: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info#unwilling-parents

  2. My daughter graduated from Fordham University back in 2003. The parent plus loans that I took out for my daughter have been in forbearance for several years. The loan balance is now up to 291,209.03 and the daily interest is $36.95 a day. My concern is when I called Fordham for a copy of these notes, I was told they did not have them . I then contacted Nelnet my loan server and was told the same thing, that they did not have this information, but I could see my loans on line if I went to the student loan data base. Is there any way instead of doing this on line could you please send me a copy of this information for my record. Also is there any way the interest rate of $36.95 /daily can be capped. I would appreciate any help you can send me in regarding this matter or guide me in who can.

    • Hello, we are researching your situation. We’ll reply back when we’re able to provide you with an update.

  3. Question does the FAFSA take into account any situation where a parent is owed back child support – as in they have not received any? (As perhaps lost income?).

  4. In 2015, we had to withdraw money from a 401K due to financial hardship. This caused our daughter not to receive financial aid from her school. We appealed and they would not make any adjustments. Now, we have to use 2015 again? Our 2016 income is much lower!

    • The 2017-18 FAFSA will ask about your income and tax information from 2015, so even though you had a higher income in 2015 you still must report that. After filing, contact the school’s financial aid office to ask for a “professional judgment” review. Explain your situation and provide any documentation you feel is necessary. The school is usually able to help if there are significant changes (like the financial hardship) that cannot be reported on the FAFSA.

  5. My daughter has a friend that is now living with her grandparents. Her parents have kicked her out and are REFUSING to supply their 2015 taxes info for her to use, can she still apply for FAFSA? Trying to help her out because she is an above 4.0 student with a high ACT score.

    • The student can still complete a FAFSA even if her parents are unwilling to provide their information. She can answer “no” to being able to provide parent information and also “no” to the special circumstance question. The downside is she may only qualify for unsubsidized loans. If she were able to provide parent info, that gives her a chance at getting subsidized loans (which are better) or even a Pell Grant (which doesn’t have to be repaid). She should check with her school’s financial aid office for further assistance with her unique situation. More info: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info#unwilling-parents

  6. I came by the end of 2015, I’ve to start off my tax filings this year . Apart from that My dad’s company cuts taxes from his income . So is that enough for the tax information .. Please Help !!

    • Try to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool so you don’t have to worry about manually inputting tax numbers.

  7. Child #1 is a junior in college already, and has received aid each year, so we already have a FAFSA account. Child #2 is currently a senior in high school, applying now for college starting fall 2017. I understand that each student needs his own FAFSA ID, but do we, as parents, use the same FAFSA ID for child #2 that we did for child #1, or do we also need to create a new one? Maybe once we go to the site the answer to this question will be obvious, so apologies if that’s the case.

  8. I’m the custodial parent but my sons dad claims him on his taxes, so do you need his tax information? My son filed his own taxes for 2015, so can you use his? This part get confusing

    Thanks

  9. Does FAFSA take into account your liabilities, as well as assets ?
    For instance personal loans, credit card debt, outstanding lines of credit, other non-mortgage loans ?

  10. Please, am Christian Chidiebere Uzobuihe from Nigeria and I like what is going on with this FAFSA, please is the requirements for me to study in this school,
    Thank for this.

  11. Can an international student on an F-1 VISA (now a freshman in college) fill out the FAFSA for her sophomore year. She did receive a temporary social security number for working on campus that she could use, but is not a US Permanent Resident or US Citizen.

    • If you completed the 2016-17 FAFSA before, select Login -> Renew.
      If you’ve never completed a FAFSA before, select New FAFSA.

    • Yes. The FAFSA is an annual application, so if she’ll be enrolled during the 2017-18 school year she should renew her FAFSA if she wants to continue receiving financial aid.

  12. Do you have this article in Spanish? In our high school we are going to have a meeting with Senior students and their parents/guardians and we think this information will be great to share with them. Several of our families are Hispanic and will be very useful to have the article in Spanish.

    Thank you very much!

  13. I thought I would get a head start with the fasfa so I filled it out and submitted. I believe that I filled out and submitted the 16-17 one. So my question is will the information that I submitted be transferable?

    Please advise

    • Some info will roll over if you select to “Renew” your FAFSA. Click Login and then the renew option. You should be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool right away too. You still have to answer all of the other FAFSA questions applicable to the day you’re filling it out. For instance, a few things may have changed since the last time you completed your FAFSA such as your household size or marital status of you or your parent(s).

  14. Please explain how families whose financial situation has changed in 2016 can not have their 2015 taxes as the only basis for financial aid. No college has been able to answer this question for many families that the changes have affected them negatively.

    • I would call to discuss. Before doing that I would also, given I know my financial situation has changed gather all numbers needed including income as best I could and “do” my 2016 taxes based on hard numbers until now and projected for Oct/Nov/Dec. Remembering you can and are supposed to adjust your FAFSA as numbers get real, if I remember right from the 2016/17 one I did. I have not seen the 2017/2018 FASA yet as it doesn’t go live until Oct 1. But I would think you could do that. I hope this helps you when you call. Good luck. – Just another parent offering a suggestion of what they would do!

    • My son entered college this fall (Aug 2016). When I completed the FAFSA last year I used my 2015 tax return, but I expected my 2016 income to be substantially lower than 2015. FAFSA would not take this expectation into account then either. My son received a financial aid package for the 2016-17 year based on the 2015 info. I contacted his preferred school to request an appeal based on my circumstances and expected income reduction. The school financial aid office advised me I could file a request for a special review after my 2016 taxes were filed. Of course, the school year would almost be over by the time my taxes would be filed and that review could occur, but based on that review, they would recalculate his aid package according to the new information. If the aid package would have been different, they would retroactively apply the aid package to the current school year. So for the time being we had to accept the aid package they offered, and are hoping/planning on improvements by the springtime. It’s a waiting game right now (Sept ’16). I recommend you contact the school financial aid office where your child wants to attend to confirm their policy. I hope this helps.

    • The schools will be able to make the adjustments once you show proof if the change in your income

    • Cindy Lehenham, I have been in contact with my daughters’ college about this since our income has dropped drastically since our 2015 tax return. They have what is called a “Special Circumstances” packet that the parents fill out explaining and documenting the change in income. The school then evaluates and sends it to the Dept of Education (I believe) to recalulate financial aid. We already have the forms in hand from our financial aid office. Hope this helps.

    • The 2017-18 FAFSA will ask about your income and tax information from 2015, so even though you had a higher income in 2015 you still must report that. After filing, contact the school’s financial aid office to ask for a “professional judgment” review. Explain your situation and provide any documentation you feel is necessary. The school is usually able to help if there are significant changes (like your job status in 2016) that cannot be reported on the FAFSA.

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