It’s October 1 and you are sitting in front of your computer wondering, how do I fill out the FAFSA? Where do I begin? Well, help has arrived! Here is some advice and tips on how to complete this elusive form, which is necessary if you want any kind of financial aid from the federal government, including the Federal Direct Student Loan, which starts at $5,500 for the freshman year, or your colleges. In addition, there are some colleges that want you to complete a FAFSA form in order to receive their merit aid. Not be awarded these funds, but receive them. So, why not just fill it out? There is no reason not to. As Nike says, Just Do It!
What You Need to Do BEFORE You Start Filling Out the FAFSA
Before you start to complete the FAFSA, you need to gather the important financial information that you will need to provide on the form.
Note: the tax return that is used is the tax return 2 years prior to the year your child is attending college. As an example, if your child is attending college in fall 2021, then you will be using your 2019 tax return.
FAFSA Information to Collect
The parents’ and child’s FSA ID login and password. (See below on how to create this. You will need this login to complete your financial aid forms.)
A copy of parents’ (and step-parent(s), if applicable) and the child’s federal tax return. (This return needs to have been filed at least 3 weeks prior to when you complete the FAFSA.)
Student’s email address.
Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
W-2 form(s) for the tax returns (parents, including step-parent(s), if applicable, and child).
Amount of untaxed income for tax year, if any (social security payments received, tax exempt interest…etc.).
Parents’ social security number, date of birth (including step-parent(s), if applicable).
If parents are divorced or separated, month and year of divorce/separation.
Student’s social security number.
Student’s driver’s license number.
Child support paid to, or received by, former spouse.
Tax year tax deferred IRA/Retirement contributions (including step-parent(s), if applicable).
Most current non-retirement investment and bank account statements (parents and child, including step-parent(s), if applicable) to calculate amount husband, wife, step parent(s) and student have in non-retirement savings and investment accounts, including 529 accounts.
If you own any other real estate other than your primary home, total equity in it/them (and step-parent(s), if applicable).
If you own your own business and have greater than 100 employees, total equity, if any.
List of schools to which the child is applying.
NOTE: If you have excessive medical and dental expenses that have actually been paid out and can be proven with receipts, you can report that information to each school as a special circumstance, but this information is not reported on the FAFSA.
How to Create FSA IDs
I suggest you create your and your child’s FSA ID at least 1 WEEK PRIOR to completing your FAFSA and receive an email from the Social Security Administration confirming that they have matched it (which comes in about a day after you set it up). PLEASE BE SURE THAT you enter the birthdate and social security information accurately! If you don’t, you WILL NOT be able to complete your FAFSA form and it will significantly delay the process, let alone the extra work you will need to put in to rectify it. See the below link to create your FSA ID. As part of the process, their system will prompt you to verify your cell phone number (via a text) and your email address (via an email). You MUST go through the process to verify both of your cell phone number AND email in order to complete your FSA ID’s. Click here for the FAFSA form.
How to Complete the FAFSA Form
OK, you have really completed the most difficult part of the process by gathering all of your information and having set up and verified the FSA ID login information. You are now ready to attack completing your FAFSA form itself.
Now all you need to do is follow the prompts and enter all of the information that you have gathered.
A Few Tips for Filling Out the Form:
Know the financial aid deadline for each of the schools to which the child is applying. This is a hard deadline and applying prior to this deadline will afford you the maximum amount of aid.
If parents are divorced or separated (physically or legally), ONLY ONE parent completes the FAFSA – it is the parent who the student lives with the majority of the year.
Include step-parents’ income and investment information. This is required.
When you get to the point in the form where it asks you if you want to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, do so, if it allows you to as this will avoid a possible audit of your information and it will also accurately report the information that is needed from your tax return.
When asked for the amount of your investments, DO NOT include your retirement assets. The FAFSA does not ask for, nor want, that information.
When asked for the equity in your home, they DO NOT mean your primary home. Primary home equity is NOT included in the FAFSA. Only secondary home equity amounts are included.
With each of the questions on the FAFSA there is an information button you can select that will further explain what you need to enter in that field. Don’t assume: read and understand so you enter the correct information.
You can do this! Don’t be afraid of the FAFSA form. You have the control. Be an educated and knowledgeable person who correctly enters the information. As in grade school, as long as you have done your homework properly, you will succeed in filling out the FAFSA form.
Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.
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