Everyone Should Apply

Students will make many decisions, from picking a college to choosing a major, but something students should never debate is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for various types of federal financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans. While some students believe they won’t qualify for financial aid, all students should submit a FAFSA. Make sure these common myths aren’t holding you back.

Grades are a factor. Some may think good grades are required to submit the FAFSA, but that isn’t true. The application doesn’t ask about grades, your GPA or class ranking. Instead, it seeks to gather your financial information to determine your eligibility for various forms of federal and state aid.

Your parents make too much. A common statement is, “My parents make too much money, so I won’t get any aid.” Until you submit the FAFSA, you won’t know your eligibility for financial aid. Before counting yourself out, complete the FAFSA to learn about your aid options. Most students are eligible to receive some type of financial assistance.

One time isn’t enough. Unlike an admission application that you submit once, the FAFSA must be completed each year you’d like to receive financial aid. This tip is specifically for returning college students. Renew your application each year after Oct. 1 so you can receive as much financial aid as possible for the next academic year.

Adult learners aren’t included. Financial aid isn’t just for recent high school graduates, it’s for all college students – which includes adult learners. Whether you’re returning to school after many years or immediately diving into a graduate program after completing your bachelor’s degree, be sure to submit the FAFSA to determine your aid eligibility. If your child is going to college and you’ve submitted a FAFSA for them, you’ll still need to submit your own application. This will help the college financial aid office create an aid award for you and a separate award for your child.

Remember, you won’t know how much aid you can receive until you submit the FAFSA. Don’t leave it up to chance. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year. To learn more about the FAFSA and how to apply, visit FAFSA.gov.

Who is My Parent on the FAFSA?

The answer to this question depends on your dependency status. If you’re considered an independent student, meaning you’ve answered YES to at least one dependency question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll report your own information (and your spouse’s, if married).

If you’re a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to provide information about your legal parent(s) on the application. A legal parent is your biological or adoptive parent, or your legal parent as determined by the state (for example, if the parent is listed on your birth certificate). If you have a stepparent currently married to your legal parent, you generally also must provide information about him or her.

If you need to report parental information, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If your legal parents are married to each other, include information for both of them on your FAFSA.
  • If your legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are not married to each other and live together, include information for both.
  • If your legal parent is widowed or was never married, include information only for your legal parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together:
    • Include the information about the parent you lived with most over the last 12 months. Also provide information for the stepparent, if your parent has remarried.
    • If you lived with each parent for an equal amount of time, include information for the parent who provided you the most financial support over the last 12 months, or during the most recent 12 months that you received support from your parent(s). Also provide information for your stepparent, if your parent has remarried
  • If your parents are divorced but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Unmarried and both legal parents living together’
    • Include information for both parents
  • If your parents are separated but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Married or remarried’ (not ‘Divorced or separated’)
    • Include information for both parents

One exception to note: The FAFSA will ask about your parents’ education level. Please answer the questions about the education levels of your birth or adoptive parents. A stepparent is not classified as a parent for those questions.

About the FSA ID

Oct. 1 is just around the corner, which is the day the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, becomes available. The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for various forms of federal financial aid like grants, work-study and student loans. To ensure you’re prepared to submit your FAFSA after Oct. 1, create your FSA ID ahead of time. This ID is the username and password you’ll use to log in and sign the FAFSA, along with other financial aid documents. One of your parents will need to create a FSA ID, as well. Here are a few tips to help with the process.

Provide personal information. When creating your FSA ID, you’ll be asked to provide your birthdate, Social Security number, phone number and physical address. The same is true for your parent(s). If your parent(s) doesn’t have a Social Security number, they won’t be able to create an FSA ID. They will, however, be able to sign your FAFSA another way. To learn how to sign the FAFSA without an FSA ID, visit StudentAid.gov.

Choose the right email address. You and your parent will also need to enter an email address. Your email address must be different from your parent’s. Be sure to use an email address that’s not issued by your school, since you won’t have access to that email account once you graduate. To ensure you receive all important information on your financial aid eligibility, provide a personal email address when creating your FSA ID.

Select challenge questions. To help with resetting your password for the future, you must select four challenge questions and provide the answers to them. You’ll choose these questions from a drop-down menu. Use our FSA ID worksheet to keep track of your answers.

Allow enough time. It takes about 10-20 minutes to create the FSA ID. As with the FAFSA, give yourself plenty of time to do this. Try to complete the FSA ID process in one sitting, as you won’t be able to save your information and return later to finish this step. Also, it’s important to be near your mobile device and have access to your email during this process. Secure codes will be sent to these devices for confirmation, and you’ll be required to enter them within a limited timeframe to create your FSA ID. By creating your FSA ID before starting the FAFSA, you’ll be better prepared for the entire completion process. Create your FSA ID today at FSAID.ed.gov.

Find Your Latest Tax Return

When you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on or after Oct. 1 this year, you’ll be required to report your income and tax information, along with that of your parents or spouse, if applicable. The tax year will always be two years before the start of the academic term for which you’re applying for aid. For example, if you’re going to submit a FAFSA for the 2021-2022 school year, you’ll need your 2019 tax information.

Many applicants will choose to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which will automatically transfer the information from a designated tax return to their FAFSA. But even if your use the DRT, it’s still helpful to have your tax return and W-2s on hand when you complete your FAFSA.

Here are two reasons why:

  • If a tax return was filed as ‘Married, Filing Jointly’ and two people who filed a joint return are reporting their income on a FAFSA, they’ll still need to report their two incomes separately. Their separate incomes are shown on their W-2s.
  • Occasionally, the IRS website may be slow, or the IRS DRT may be a little uncooperative. It’s also possible that a filer may not qualify to use the DRT. In order to continue, you may find it easier just to enter the income and tax figures yourself. In order to do that, you’ll need your tax return. The good news here is that the FAFSA will direct you to the correct line of the tax return for the information requested.

Ensuring that everyone whose information is required on your FAFSA knows the location of their latest tax return will make the whole FAFSA process more comfortable for everyone involved. After all, October is really not that far away!

Completing the 2021-22 FAFSA

It’s almost time to start the 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA! This application will help determine your financial aid eligibility if you plan to attend college in the fall of 2021. We’ve created a helpful list of steps to guide you through the application process.

  1. Gather Materials: Before getting started, you’ll need to make sure you have your Social Security card, current bank statements, and your 2019 W2 and tax return. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll also need your parent(s)’ financial information and 2019 tax returns.
  2. Create an FSA ID: The FSA ID, or Federal Student Aid ID, is a username and password that you’ll use to log-in to your FAFSA. It will also serve as your electronic signature for completing the application. To create an FSA ID, visit fsaid.ed.gov. Remember to use our FSA ID Worksheet (also available in Spanish) to keep track of your username and password. If you are a dependent student, a parent or guardian will also need to create a FSA ID.
  3. Fill It Out: Starting Oct. 1, you can access the new FAFSA at FAFSA.gov.
  4. Sign & Submit: Enter your FSA ID for your electronic signature. If you’re a dependent student, remember a parent will have to provide their electronic signature, as well. Don’t forget to click ‘submit’ at the bottom of the screen!
  5. Follow Up: Keep an eye out for a Student Aid Report (SAR) email, as well as information from the colleges you applied to. Sometimes campuses ask for additional paperwork, so watch for possible requests. If you have any questions after receiving your financial aid offer, follow up with the financial aid office at your campus.

For more details, check out the Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps guide or watch the Finish the FAFSA in Five videos on the StartWithFAFSA website, available in both English and Spanish.

The FAFSA is Always FREE

College is an important financial investment in any student’s future. Between talk of scholarships and savings plans, it’s exciting to come across something completely free. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is one step in the college financial process that won’t cost you a cent. The FAFSA is an application that will help determine your eligibility for financial aid. The official application can be found at FAFSA.gov. Other websites may offer to process the application for you for a fee, but these sites are scams and are not the official free FAFSA application.

When filling out the free application on FAFSA.gov, you’ll need an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID). This is a username and password that you’ll use to log in to your application. It will also serve as your electronic signature. Create your FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov and save your information on our FSA ID Worksheet. Once you create your FSA ID, you’re ready to log in to your free application. After your application is completed, the colleges that you applied to will send you a financial aid offer. This offer will list the amount and types of federal and state financial aid awarded to you. Remember, the official application is on FAFSA.gov and the FAFSA is always free!