Completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) doesn’t have to be confusing. Read on for advice from our college advisor and one of our trusted college counseling partners to help you navigate the FAFSA with confidence. First, let’s dispel a few myths about FAFSA:
- I should wait to complete the FAFSA until I have decided on my chosen college — NO, you can submit the FAFSA now so that you will have a more accurate financial aid package for each of the schools you have applied to. This can help you to feel more confident in your decision, without leaving the financial questions up to chance.
- I should not complete the FAFSA if my family may not be eligible for need-based aid — NO, in fact, many scholarships require a FAFSA application on file, even though they do not require a certain score to determine eligibility. Completing the FAFSA, regardless of the income situation of a family, is a good idea because colleges may still require it in order to finalize a financial aid package that includes merit-based scholarships.
- I cannot submit the FAFSA until 2020 taxes have been filed — NO, actually, the FAFSA can be submitted as early as now with an estimated family contribution, but then would be finalized after taxes are filed.
We recommend that all students complete the FAFSA – it is only part of what colleges review when they create a financial aid package for a student, but for many colleges, it is essential that the FAFSA is completed.
Here is some expert advice offered by one of our partner college counselors, Marina Glava of St. Dominic Savio Catholic High school.
The FAFSA is open beginning October 1. Which means that it’s time to gather up your materials and fill it out – the sooner, the better!
This year, you can even file the financial aid form straight from your mobile device.
It’s important to gather all the necessary information and materials beforehand. Trust me, if you do have the necessary information on hand, filling out the form will become much simpler.
Depending on your circumstances (when you filed taxes or what tax form was used), you may or may not need the following information or documents as you fill out the FAFSA.
- Your Social Security card and driver’s license, and/or alien registration card if you are not a US citizen.
- Your most recent federal income tax returns (you don’t have to wait – you can use the most recent returns you have from last year), W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Your parents’ income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1040 forms if you are a dependent (“dependent” means that you were claimed by your parents/guardians on their taxes; you are a dependent unless declared otherwise). 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.
- Records and documentation of other non-taxable income received, such as welfare benefits, Social Security income, veteran’s benefits, military or clergy allowances (if applicable).
- Any additional applicable financial information, such as taxable work-study, assistantships, fellowships, grants, and scholarship aid reported to the IRS, combat pay or special combat pay and cooperative education program earnings.
- Records of any additional nontaxable income, examples include: child support received, veterans’ non-education benefits, money received or paid on your behalf, etc.
- Current bank and brokerage account statements, including records of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments (if applicable).
- Business or investment farm records (if applicable).
- Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as anything that changed from last year or anything that distinguishes the family from the typical family in terms of unusual marital situations, living situations, separations, etc. Examples include: high unreimbursed medical and/or dental expenses, unusually high dependent care costs (e.g., for a special-needs child or an elderly parent), death, divorce, salary reductions, job loss, and private K-12 tuition. *With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions, there may be significant changes for tax year 2020 that you may need to take into consideration. Remember that you can update/finalize the FAFSA after taxes have been filed for 2020.
- Title IV Institution Codes for each school you are applying to. You can get this code from the school (some have them listed on their websites) or you can use FinAid’s Title IV School Code Database.
When filling out and submitting your FAFSA electronically, you’ll need an FSA ID to sign the form. If you don’t have one, you can create a FSA ID online. If you are applying as a dependent – and again, you are dependent unless declared otherwise – one parent is required to sign as well. To electronically fill out your FAFSA online, your parent should also apply for a FAFSA ID at the same site.
Download the 2020-2021 FAFSA information sheet during your preparation process, to doubly ensure you have all of the information you need. https://studentaid.gov/sites/default/files/2020-21-fafsa-worksheet.pdf
Utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows applicants who have already filed their federal income tax returns to prefill the answers to some of the difficult FAFSAquestions by transferring the necessary data directly from federal income tax returns.
If you are a man, age 18-25, you must be registered with Selective Service.
According to the Selective Service System website, “men, born after December 31, 1960, who aren’t registered with Selective Service won’t qualify for Federal student loans or grant programs. This includes Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Direct Stafford Loans/Plus Loans, National Direct Student Loans, and College Work Study.” Ensure your eligibility by following the guidelines detailed on the Selective Service System website!
I’d advise you to gather your materials and fill out your forms sooner rather than later because the entire process can take a while. Putting off your financial aid is not something you want to do!
Once you complete your FAFSA, save copies of your completed FAFSA form, along with copies of all the information you gathered in order to fill it out.
Make sure to keep all documents in a safe place – you never know when you’ll need to reference them. It’s also a way to prove that you’ve submitted the form on time, since no late applications are accepted!
*Information from Fastweb, FAFSA Checklist
Overview of the financial aid process
FAFSA mobile App
FAFSA and FSA tips for parents
After the FAFSA, what to expect
Great website for lingering FAFSA questions
SUBMIT YOUR INFORMATION:
When you are ready to complete your FAFSA, head to https://fafsa.ed.gov/