FILLING OUT THE FAFSA

HOW TO FILL
OUT THE FAFSA

Do you need money to go to college? If you want help from the federal government, you’ll need to fill out an online form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. 

Your state government and individual colleges may also use the FAFSA to award financial aid. There is lots of money available, more than most students think.

The FAFSA takes you step by step through the questions you’ll need to answer. It was recently redesigned to be simpler and faster. Learn about the FAFSA today. The effort will be worth it.

Types of Help to Pay for College

There is a lot of money available to pay for college from many different sources.
As you look at this, what sticks out to you? What questions do you have?
Federal Pell Grants
15%
Federal Veteran Benefits
5%
College Grants
35%
Federal Work-Study & FSEOG
1%
Private Scholarships
7%
State Aid
7%
Federal Loans
25%

How Does The FAFSA Work?

The FAFSA asks questions about your family and collects information about what you and your parents earn. Why does the FAFSA need this information? 

The federal government aims to give money to students who need it most. Many colleges also use information on the FAFSA to estimate your family’s ability to pay for college and how much aid they may need to offer you.

In a Nutshell:

Do you and your family have enough money to pay for college?

If you don’t, how much help can you get from the federal government?
And how much help will you need from the college you attend?

To figure this out, the FAFSA calculates a number called the Student Aid Index, an indicator of your family’s ability to pay. In prior years, this was called the Expected Family Contribution. SAI is important. The lower the number, the more aid you may be eligible for.

To calculate your Student Aid Index,
the FAFSA needs to know three things:

Who Are Your Parents?

Are you dependent on them or living independently?

How Much Do You and Your Parents Earn?

What savings and other assets might be available for college?

Who’s in Your Household?

Who are your parents supporting financially?

Is The FAFSA For You?

Almost certainly! Filling out the FAFSA opens the door to almost
all financial aid — including help from the federal government, state government, the colleges’ own funds, & many private scholarships.
Please note: If you are an undocumented student, you can’t receive federal aid and you won’t fill out the FAFSA, but there are funds available from many other sources. See our link below and other articles on this website.

How It Works

FAFSA will lead you through the questions that you and your family need to answer

The FAFSA form recognizes that many of today’s students live in blended families and a variety of home situations. You’ll be given instructions on how to answer the questions. The goal is to make sure you get all of the college money you’re eligible for. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA, even if you think your family earns too much for you to qualify for aid. It’s true that federal Pell Grants are reserved for lower-income families. But higher-income students can get government loans and a variety of scholarships from colleges.

Money for undocumented students

Undocumented students are not eligible for federal aid and can’t fill out the FAFSA, but there are other sources of help. Many states, colleges, and scholarship providers offer money. Get our student picks on the best websites at UnderstandingFAFSA.org.

GET ANSWERS : CITIZENSHIP ON THE FAFSA

What if I’m not a U.S. citizen?
What if I’m undocumented?
What if my parents are undocumented?
Is it safe to fill out the FAFSA if my parents are undocumented?

What’s The Student Aid Index?

The FAFSA’s Student Aid Index, or SAI, is an important number. It helps determine how much financial help you may get. The SAI is a measure of your family’s ability to pay for college. The lower the number, the more aid you may be eligible for. Thankfully, you won’t need to do the math. Most of this information is gathered and calculated automatically on the new FAFSA.

To calculate the Student Aid Index, the FAFSA collects information about your family income, savings, and household size. 

Parent Income
Cash and Savings
Value of Business
Your income
Real Estate
Value of Farm
Family Size
Investments

Want to see how much government aid you may receive? Get a trustworthy number today using
the Federal Student Aid Estimator.

Getting Organized

When you fill out your FAFSA, it’s best to have all of the information you need by your side. Take time now to gather everything.

Set Up Your System

Online or on paper, a well-organized system can be a game-changer, allowing you to keep all your documents and materials neatly arranged and easily accessible. Get our tips at UnderstandingFAFSA.org.

Family Information

For yourself and everyone who will
contribute to your FAFSA

Full Legal Name
Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN)
Date of Birth
Cell Phone Number
Mailing Address
Permanent email (no high school or junk addresses) 

Tax Forms

Your tax data will likely be automatically uploaded to your FAFSA, but you’ll want to have your family’s 2022 tax returns available for reference. There are questions that you will need to refer to.

Your 2022 1040 form, if you filed taxes
Your parents’ 2022 1040 form, if you are dependent on one or both of them
All attached tax schedules
Cell Phone Number
Estimate of 2022 income, if your family doesn’t file taxes
Foreign tax forms, if applicable

Savings, Investments, Other Income & Assets

Recent bank statements with the current value of your and your family’s savings and investments
Your parents’ 2022 1040 form, if you are dependent on one or both of them
Estimate of 2022 income, if your family didn’t file taxes
List of government benefits your family receives, such as Social Security benefits or veterans benefits
Your 2022 1040 form, if you filed taxes
All attached tax schedules
Foreign tax forms, if applicable
Value of a second home or other properties
Estimated value of family business(es)
Estimated value of family farm(s)
Record of child support payments

Are You Dependent or Independent?

Do you depend financially on at least one of your parents? Or are you on your own and independent? Let’s figure out who is required to fill out the FAFSA with you.

For the FAFSA, you are “dependent” if:

You live with one or both of your parents.

For the FAFSA, a parent is:

Your birth mother or father,
A stepparent who’s married to your birth or adoptive parent.
A parent who adopted you,
OR
You live with a close relative or friend, but you’re still receiving financial support from one or both of your parents.

For the FAFSA, you are “independent” if:

You are 24 years old or older, married, serving in the military, or financially supporting children of your own.
You are orphaned, in foster care, in legal guardianship, or a ward of the court.
You are homeless and on your own, or supporting yourself and at risk of becoming homeless.
OR
You live with a close relative or friend, but you’re still receiving financial support from one or both of your parents.

GET ANSWERS : PARENTS & FAMILY

What if my parents live together but aren’t married?

What if my parents are divorced or separated?

What if I live with a relative or family friend?

What if my family and I are homeless or living in temporary housing?

Are my parents required to help me pay for college?

Who Fills Out The
FAFSA?

Ready to start your FAFSA? If you are dependent on your parents, you’ll need the help of one or both of them. Let’s figure out who needs to help.

Who Is a “Parent” on the FAFSA?

You may live with one parent or both, split time among households, or live with another family member, like a grandmother or aunt.

If your parents are legally responsible for you, the FAFSA needs their information. This includes your biological parents, adoptive parents, or stepparents. Other adults are not included on your FAFSA.

Who Helps?

So which parent — or set of parents — needs to be included on your FAFSA? You can figure this out using the chart below. //I think we need the chart or something similar that you create?// Or the FAFSA’s parent wizard can guide you. The FAFSA will ask you questions about your parents and let you know who needs to contribute to your form. You will send an “invite” to whoever needs to help. It’s easy to invite your parents to help you out.
 

The FAFSA Is Team Effort

In years past, it was possible for either a student or parent to start and finish a student’s FAFSA in one sitting. This is no longer true.

Why? Students and parents filling out the FAFSA for the first time will need to get a secure login, called an “FSA ID,” in advance of filling out the FAFSA. And each person working on the FAFSA will need to fill out their own section. This is because the new FAFSA asks users to upload their federal tax data, which is heavily protected. You’ll need to work as a team.

Four Things To Know

You’ll need the help of one or both of your parents to complete the FAFSA. The exception is if you are considered independent on the FAFSA. The FAFSA will ask you questions to determine if you may be independent. If you are dependent on your parents, the FAFSA “parent wizard” will ask you some questions and then tell you which parent or parents will need to help out.

Everyone on your FAFSA team will need to legally establish who they are, creating a secure sign-in called an FSA ID. While it’s quick to create an FSA ID, it usually takes one to three business days for the government to verify the information.
Once you have your FSA IDs, each member of your FAFSA team will fill out their own section.  After you start your FAFSA, you will be asked to “invite” your parents to do their part. Parents can begin work as soon as they receive your invite — or whenever it’s convenient.
OR
Each member of your FAFSA team will provide their own personal and financial information and will need to “consent” to share their tax data.  The good news? This will make your FAFSA much easier to fill out. The wrinkle? Everyone must provide consent for you to get federal college aid. If you or your parents have concerns, call the FAFSA help desk at 800-433-3243.

Get Your FSA ID

Now it’s time to take your first important step: creating an FSA ID. You will use this login to fill out and electronically sign your FAFSA. The same is true for one or both of your parents. These logins will get a lot of use in the years to come. Find an easy way to remember them.
Four Things To Know
A safe place to store login information, password, security question information, and backup code.
Your family’s tax forms or Social Security cards.
Your Social Security number and birthdate.
A permanent email address (not your school email address) and cell phone number.

How to Create an FSA ID

Search up “FSA ID Create Account” and click the “Get Started” button. Create a unique username and password that you will remember and record it somewhere safe
Enter your full legal name, date of birth, mailing address, language preference, and Social Security number. Make sure your name and Social Security number match the information on your Social Security card or your parents’ taxes exactly.
Provide your email and cell phone information. Choose a permanent email address that you check frequently. Also, an email address and cell phone number can only be associated with one FSA ID. Make sure yours is different from your parents’.
Answer the security questions. Choose questions that are facts, not opinions. Opinions can change over time.
Follow the prompts to enable two-step verification, linking your email address to your new FSA ID. You can also link your cell phone. It’s best to set up both.
Record your one-time backup security code. This can be used to access your account if all else fails.
Verify that everything you’ve entered is correct. Double-check. When you’re ready, hit submit!
Congratulations! Watch your email. It may take a day or two to get your FSA ID fully set up. You’ll want to make sure everything is working before you start filling out your FAFSA.

FSA ID Tips & Troubleshooting

So what exactly is an FSA ID? It’s a website login, just like the ones you have for your favorite music sites or online stores. But this login connects you to important government websites. It needs to be extra secure. Take your time to set it up right.

Use your full legal name.
It’s important to use your full legal name. No shortened names or nicknames. Look at your Social Security card, your family’s taxes, or another legal document to be sure.

Type slowly and carefully.
FAFSA needs your legal name, birthdate, and Social Security number to be sure you are really you. It’s important to be precise. Look at those legal documents, match them exactly — and type slowly.

Parents also need FSA IDs.
Your parents may already have FSA IDs if they filled out FAFSA for your older siblings. But if you’re the first, one or both of your parents should follow the same steps to get their own FSA ID.

Have your parents forgotten their FSA ID?
Your parents may have obtained an FSA ID in the past. If they have, they’ll need to use that FSA ID for your FAFSA. Did they forget their login? They can go online to get it reset. Or your siblings in college may know what it is. Call the FAFSA help desk at 800-433-3243 if you need help.

Help for Parents Without Social
Security Numbers

All students must have a Social Security number to get an FSA ID and fill out the FAFSA. But parents do not need Social Security numbers to help you with the FAFSA and get an FSA ID. The FAFSA is providing a way for all parents to get their FSA IDs and help complete the FAFSA. Read our article: How to get an FSA ID Without a Social Security number

FAFSA’s Five Sections

The new, simplified FAFSA walks you through the questions you’ll need to answer. It’s broken out into five different sections.

In the information that follows, learn why you’re being asked these questions and how to tackle anything confusing. If you get stuck, ask an adult to help or call the FAFSA help desk at 800-433-3243.

1. Personal Circumstances

Most of these questions determine if you are dependent on your parents or independent from them. Other questions may give access to more financial aid.

2. Demographics

These are government research questions. You may answer them if you like, or decline to answer. These questions will not affect your eligibility for aid. All information is kept confidential and is not shared with your family or colleges.

3. Financials

To determine your eligibility for financial aid, the FAFSA needs to know your family’s income and savings. If you agree to share your tax data (and you should!), this section will be short. If your parents are helping you with the FAFSA, they will provide most of the family’s financial information. Ask for help, if needed.

4. Signature

Agree that the information is correct and sign electronically. After you do this, you’ll be told what you and your family need to do next.

5. Colleges

The FAFSA will ask you which colleges you are applying to. You can list up to 20 schools. Still getting your applications together? You can add schools at any time. These schools will get your FAFSA information once your application is complete.

Start Your FAFSA!

The time has come to fill out the FAFSA form. Choose your favorite device. Get online and get settled in. If you’re prepared, this form will go quickly! Feel free to take a break if needed. Save and come back when you’re ready.

Here’s what to do, step-by-step:

Search up “FAFSA.gov” on your favorite search engine.

Look over the opening screen. Hit the button to start your FAFSA! Going to college in fall 2024? You will want to launch the 2024-25 FAFSA.

Log in with your FSA ID and watch the FAFSA tutorial. Then follow the instructions step by step. The FAFSA will lead the way.

When you’re done, it’s your parents’ turn. Invite one or both of them to complete the form.

Be sure to find the correct website. Other websites may charge you to file your FAFSA form. The government’s web tools are free and safe.

Sharing Your Tax
Information

The FAFSA can now automatically import your tax information and your family’s from the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS.

The FAFSA can now automatically import your tax information and your family’s from the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS.
This feature makes the FAFSA much easier to fill out. Everyone knows your information is accurate. Sharing tax information with the FAFSA is safe and secure.
The FAFSA uses tax information to calculate how much federal aid you may be eligible for. States and colleges also use this information to determine how much help they can offer.
Consent is required to get any financial help from the federal government. Have questions? Talk to a college counselor or an adult you trust. Or call the FAFSA help desk at 800-433-3243.

GET ANSWERS : SHARE YOUR TAX INFORMATION

What information is required to get an FSA ID?

What tax information is required to fill out the FAFSA?
What asset information may be required?
Do I need the actual Social Security card?

All About You

Ready to start? The first set of questions should be easy. It’s all about you! Students sometimes wonder why they are being asked a lot of personal questions. Let’s take a look at the questions and why they’re important.

Questions About Your Identity

This is identifying information, including your name, birthday, email, address, and Social Security number.

Why Are They Asking?
To make sure it’s you. This section has been pre-filled with the information you provided to get your FSA ID. Review this information and make sure it’s correct.

TIP: This section can be corrected. Go to “Account Settings” to update your info.

Questions About Your Demographics

What is your gender? What’s your race and ethnicity?

Why Are They Asking?
These questions are for research purposes. They are optional and will not affect your federal aid.

Questions About Your Education

Will you be a freshman next year? Do you have any college degrees? What high school did you attend? Do your parents have college degrees?

Why Are They Asking?
Some of the information will determine what kind of aid you’re eligible for. The questions about your parents and high school are for research purposes.

Who’s In Your Household?

The FAFSA form will ask you about the size of your family. The FAFSA is trying to determine who your parents support financially in addition to you. The larger the family, the more aid you may be eligible for.

This question is optional on the new FAFSA, but it is very important to fill it out. If you leave the question blank, the FAFSA will use the information from your parents’ tax forms. It’s possible that the tax forms won’t capture the full picture of your household. The taxes may not reflect who is living with you, as of today. Or there may be people who depend on your parents who weren’t included on their taxes. Use the guide below to calculate how many people are in your household.

Look at the household of the parent who is filling out the FAFSA with you. How many people will your parents be supporting in the year you are in college? The number will include:

Either one or both parents:
If you live with both parents, count 2 people.
If you live with a parent and a stepparent, count 2 people.
If you live with one parent, count 1 person.
Anyone else being supported by your parents:
This includes you.
Count brothers and sisters (including full, half, or step) at home or in college.
Count anyone else in your home (cousins, aunts, grandparents) if your parents are providing more than half of their support.

Understanding Income

Your family income is a big factor in determining how much aid you receive for college. Here’s what to know about how your income can affect your financial aid eligibility.
If you are dependent on your parents, the FAFSA will collect information about your income and the income of one or both of your parents.
Most of this information is collected automatically as long as you and your family agree to share your tax information. You won’t see many questions about income on the FAFSA.
The FAFSA will also ask about family savings, investments, and other assets your family may have. (Your parents will see more questions about this than you will.)
Your family’s income and assets will help determine how much federal “need-based aid” you get.
States, colleges, and others will also use your family’s FAFSA income information to offer their own need-based grants and scholarships.

Who Gets Help?

The federal government offers Pell Grants—free money for college—to low-income students and families.

What is low income? That will depend on a number of factors in your family, including how many people your parents are supporting and where you live. Many more families will be eligible for federal Pell Grants as well as low-cost loans thanks to this new FAFSA. You’ll be given an estimate of how much federal money you’re eligible for as soon as your FAFSA has been submitted.

What Counts as Income?

Every family is different. The money you and your parents make may come from a variety of sources. Read the online form carefully to see what information is being collected.

Important: The FAFSA requires tax information from two years prior to the school year for which you’re applying for financial aid. All tax information on this year’s FAFSA will be based on your 2022 returns. Is your family earning a lot less now than in 2022? Contact your colleges and let them know.

All About Assets

The FAFSA will automatically collect most of your family’s income information after you and your parents agree to share your tax data. In addition, if you or your parents made more than $60,000 in 2022, the FAFSA will ask about your family’s “assets.” This includes things like savings, investments, and businesses.

As a student filling this out, answer the questions about yourself. Your parents may be asked about their assets when they fill out their portion of the FAFSA. Below are assets that you and your family may need to report:

Cash, Checking & Savings
This will include the current balance of all checking and savings accounts in banks, as well as apps like Venmo and PayPal.

Investments & Real Estate
This is the current value of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, money market accounts, and brokerage accounts. It also includes investment properties, vacation homes, and land.

Business or Farm Assets
If you or your parents own any kind of business or farm, you’ll need to determine the “value” of that business and declare it on the FAFSA. How do you do that? The easiest way is to ask your family’s accountant to do this for you. Or look for instructions on the FAFSA.

NOTE! You do not need to report the value of your family’s home or retirement accounts. The FAFSA does not consider those when calculating financial aid.

IMPORTANT: For most assets, you will be asked to calculate the value as of today. Look for your most recent bank statements. Or ask the family’s accountant to help you out.

Go Team! Submit Your FAFSA

Remember how we said the FAFSA was a team effort? Getting the FAFSA done together is worth celebrating!

If you filled out your section of the FAFSA first, be sure to sign electronically and celebrate. Then remind your parents that they need to do their part. If the opposite is true, your parents will remind you to get the job done. Work together!

Whoever is the last to complete the form will see the best part. The FAFSA will offer a big “Congratulations!” You are officially done with your FAFSA.

APPLY FOR STATE AID NOW!

You’re on a roll. Don’t rest easy yet. The FAFSA is for federal aid. But you should also apply for any help that your state may offer. Do some research. Many states offer good money—and some of it is first come, first served. Apply now. Don’t put it off.

Make sure your FAFSA is processed properly!

See a red exclamation point at the top of your summary? There may be something you need to fix. Look over the “Next Steps” section. Your FAFSA will not be processed if information is missing or there are any other problems.
Check your email. At some point, you will get a FAFSA Submission Summary. (Learn more below.) It will contain a calculation of your Student Aid Index along with an estimate of how much federal aid you’re eligible for. This will include Pell Grants and federal loans.

Your FAFSA Submission Summary

You and your family have completed the FAFSA and hit “submit.” Congratulations! Now watch for your FAFSA Submission Summary. It might sound boring, but it’s actually the best part. You get an immediate estimate of how much federal aid you may receive. And you’ll learn lots more.

Here’s a quick description of the four sections you’ll see.

Eligibility Overview
This tab estimates your eligibility for:

  • Federal Pell Grants: Free money for college.
  • Federal Direct Loans: Lower-cost loans. (You’ll have to pay these back.)
  • Federal Work-Study: Money for a campus job. (You’ll have to find a FWS job.)

This tab also includes your Student Aid Index calculation, a measure of your family’s
ability to pay. Individual colleges may use this number to calculate how much additional financial aid — beyond any federal aid — they will give you. This number may range from – 1,500 to 999,999. The lower the number, the more need-based aid you may get.

FAFSA Form Answers
Use this tab to review your information and make sure it’s correct. If you spot an error, you can open up your FAFSA form and correct it.

School Information
This tab will list the colleges you selected to send your FAFSA information to. Bonus: There is lots of trustworthy information here. Look at graduation rates, average cost, and how much debt students take on. Good to know!

Next Steps
This important tab will let you know if you need to correct errors or provide additional information. Be sure to take care of any issues quickly.

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A Note About Timing

Normally your FAFSA Submission Summary will come quickly. But expect delays this year since this FAFSA is brand new. The government has announced that you will be see your summary or be able to make changes on your FAFSA until late January. If you filed in January, wait until the end of the month to see your summary. If you file after January, your summary should come soon after you file your FAFSA.