The new school year means the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) filing period is here for those who will be attending college the next academic year. Beginning October 1, students can fill out the FAFSA, the form you submit to receive grants, scholarships, federal students loans and work-study from the government, states and colleges.
The process of submitting the application can be overwhelming for students and parents, especially if it is your first time completing the FAFSA. It is important to fill out the information correctly and promptly to give yourself the best shot at aid. Review these tips to help avoid mistakes when filling out the FAFSA.
1. Fill out the FAFSA every year.
Every college student should fill out the FAFSA every year, no matter what your family’s financial situation is. Family financials can fluctuate year to year, impacting the aid you could receive.
2. Be aware of deadlines.
While the federal deadline to file the FAFSA for the school year isn't until June 30, there are separate school and state deadlines. School and state deadlines are often earlier than the federal deadline. Before the FAFSA opens on October 1, do some research to understand all the deadlines and dates you will need to meet as you complete the process.
3. File early.
In almost all cases, it's best to submit your FAFSA as soon as you can after the start of the filing period, because some funding is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA opens on October 1, so try to file as close to that date.
4. Have your required documents ready.
To make sure you're entering the correct info, have everything you need before you begin filing. That way you aren't scrambling to find the proper documents and information, which could lead to errors. You'll need your Social Security number (SSN), FSA ID — your federal student aid ID, asset records and tax returns from two years prior.
Be sure to keep copies of these records, FSA ID and log in credentials in a safe place so you can refer to them later. Your FSA ID will be needed each year you complete a FAFSA.
5. Use the correct website.
There are websites that offer assistance filling out the FAFSA — for a fee. Be sure to use the official, US Department of Education-endorsed site when filing the FAFSA, which never charges a fee: fafsa.ed.gov.
For help getting ready to complete the FAFSA application, you can our free FASFA assistant.
6. Provide your correct information.
Ensuring your name, date of birth and SSN are correct seems like a no brainer, but mistakes with this type of information can cause your FAFSA to be rejected.
The FAFSA verifies the information that's in the Social Security database to check your citizenship status.
7. Put down the correct amount of your income tax.
This is a tricky one, as you're asked to enter your assessed income tax liability, which is the total amount of tax on your income. This isn't the amount of income tax withheld, nor is it your adjusted gross income (AGI). You can use this handy table to figure out which tax line number you should look at. If you find yourself scratching your head, reach out to a tax professional for help.
8. Count all sources of income.
You'll need to include income or benefits such as investments and savings as well as earnings from any jobs for both. Untaxed sources of income such as Social Security, disability, and worker's compensation, should also be reported on your FAFSA application.
9. Parents divorced? Know which parent to report.
There are pretty rigid guidelines as to which parent or parents need to be reported and how to do so on the FAFSA. For instance, if your parents are divorced or separated, you would report the parent you lived with longest during the past 12 months. If you lived with both parents equally, you should list the parent who provided you the most financial assistance. You will also need to report a step parent's financial information if they provided you with at least 50 percent of financial assistance. This is regardless of any prenuptial agreements.
10. Report the correct number of family members in college.
This is the number of people in your, or your parents' household (including yourself) who will be attending college at the same time as you do. You'll need to include a step parent's child if they are attending college at least half-time, even if they don't live with you.
11. List all schools (up to 10).
You'll also need the list of schools to which you'll be applying. You can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA and, even if you're undecided, you can list the schools you're considering. While the order you list the schools in doesn't matter for federal aid, it could make a difference on a state level. Some states require that you list an eligible state college in a certain position to receive aid from the state.
12. Sign the FAFSA.
To avoid forgetting to sign the FAFSA, sign up for a FSA ID before you start the application. This allows you to sign your form electronically. And if you're filing as a dependent, have your parents also sign up for an FSA ID before you begin, as they'll need to sign the online form as well.
FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.