3 Things You Need To Know Before Filling Out A FAFSA

If you’re a college student who seeks financial aid, part of your annual ritual is filling out a
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which lets you see what financial aid you qualify for. In its own way, the application is as important as any research paper or test you’ll complete at school.

Main Street offers up some advice for filling out the form. Here are some of its suggestions:

* There can be advantages to filing early. Some states offer aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, if you expect to come into a bunch of money within the next few weeks, you’re better off filing before you get the funds. The poorer you appear to be, the more aid you’re likely to receive.

* Talk to the school to work out deadline problems. If circumstances will prevent you from completing the form before your state’s deadline, let your school know as soon as you can so it can make accommodations.

* File your taxes as soon as possible. Officials will merge your tax information with your application, so you’re best off completing your taxes as soon as you can so you can get your FAFSA processed faster.

11 Tips to Mastering the FAFSA [Main Street]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cat says:

    Your parents are on the hook for part of your costs until you’re 26, unless you’re married or in the armed forces. And they don’t care what your parents expenses are, all that matters is their income.

    • milk says:

      That always drove me crazy. Just because my parents have money doesn’t mean I get any of it. They still had a 6-year-old at home. Me moving out and getting a job was a relief for the family finances.

    • Conformist138 says:

      24, not 26. I’m 26 now and I haven’t needed to use my parents’ income for awhile.

      What is stupid is it doesn’t matter if you live independently. The only way to not include parental income is to prove you are entirely estranged (like, fear for your life contacting them level of estranged). If you live on your own and support yourself, they still force you to reveal your parents’ tax info.

      • Krystal says:

        That always pissed me off. I was 100% responsible for my own college costs, so I found it unfair that my parents’ income was counted.

        • Coelacanth says:

          I had the same problem. I was responsible for 100% of my college expenses, including housing.

          My negativity was enhanced by the fact that my parents were going through a very difficult period financially – one, which frankly, could have been avoided. I could usually appeal the EFC with my university directly, but it always took time and a fair amount of paperwork.

          I was thrilled when I finally filled out the FAFSA my senior year and had the EFC come back as 0.

        • Stiv says:

          The philosophy behind a tax-payer funded financial aid is that a student’s resource for funding the college education rests first and foremost with their family. As a result, the FAFSA measures your family’s potential ability to help with your education rather than your family’s willingness. So, basically a family which has the means to help offset some or all of student’s costs but chooses not to is basically asking other taxpayers to shoulder that burden for them instead. How is that fair?

          Certainly there are families who aren’t in a position to help, but the FAFSA’s sensitive to this, so some student’s Expected Family Contribution reflect a diminished ability to pay.

          It’s also important to note that an EFC is not a literal dollar amount that your family is expected to pay toward your educational costs. The term’s an unfortunate misnomer. Instead it’s a eligibility marker for certain types of need-based aid (grants, work-study, and subsidized loans). Realistically how much a student and/or their family pays out of pocket is a function of the specific school’s cost in relationship to the scholarships and need-based aid for which they qualify. As a result, some families end up contributing far less than their EFC. Some families contribute far more.

      • nakago71 says:

        Or if you get married, and don’t think me and some of my fellow classmates didn’t seriously consider it.

    • dannn says:

      They really need to fix this. Just because you are under 24 doesn’t mean your parents still support you. I had a hard time getting aid because they would combine my income with my parents for the application. I originally thought the application was broken since it kept asking for my parents tax information. I have been filing my own taxes since 20 and haven’t been claimed as a dependent since then.

    • alana0j says:

      Or if you have a child. I filled out my (now ex) boyfriend’s FAFSA for him a few years back when he enrolled in college. He was only 22 but we had a daughter so they did not require his parents’ income.

    • Coelacanth says:

      That’s strange. When I attended college, once a person turned 24, their parents’ income no longer mattered.

    • yurei avalon says:

      Uhg I know. I tried doing the FAFSA paperwork when I was 17 in high school. They said my parents ‘made too much money’ despite the fact that only 1 of them had a job and our monthly expenses exceeded their income. (They’re not very good with the whole living within your means thing.) That’s the other bummer, they only look at the income and not the expenses.

      My bf and I live together and gross 6 figures between our combined incomes with him making twice what I do, and he doesn’t take a good deal of that home in the end due to taxes. We’re comfortable but, he has to finish getting out of debt and start building up his safety net again before I would say we’re “safe”. :/ They’d never give me financial aid though I’m sure now as we likely “make too much money”. No college for me until my work gives me the chance to go on their dollar.

    • chargernj says:

      That’s not exactly true. Even if your parents make too much money and they refuse to help you with college cost you can still afford to go to school.

      Every US citizen is eligible for student loans if nothing else. Generally student loans will cover the tuition at community college and sometimes even state college too.

      The myth you are perpetrating come from the attitude that every student should be able to go to any college they want, even if it is a high priced private college.

  2. Kishi says:

    Also: FAFSA.gov, not FAFSA.com. I know at least one person who made that mistake. We mocked him severely for paying them money.

  3. prezuiwf says:

    Another thing to mention is you should fill it out, REGARDLESS of your situation. I know a lot of people who didn’t bother to fill out a FAFSA because they thought their family made too much money. Trust me, it’s easier to get money than you think, and it’s often impossible to tell exactly who they’ll give it to, so just fill one out no matter who you are. It can only help.

    • invisibelle says:

      This, this, this. I am one of those people who didn’t fill it out and later MAJORLY regretted it.

  4. RickinStHelen says:

    If your parents are divorced, and a parent is a deadbeat, be prepared to explain. They really don’t care. If they expect a certain contribution, it is factored in. They don’t care if the parent is a pos. I hate this system.

    • ARP says:

      I always hated that too. My parents made OK money, but were divorced, so maintained two households and had to send my siblings to school. But nope, income is all that counts. I agree that if you’re middle class and decided to buy a Bimmer, then that’s your problem not the Gov’s. But when some of those expenses aren’t “lifestyle” choices, they should be factored in. Sending other kids to school, maintaining two households, medical costs (some of which can be deducted from taxes), etc. should all be factors.

      • chargernj says:

        Sending other kids to school IS factored in the FAFSA calculations.

        If your EFC was 5000 with just one kid in college it will be 2500 if two kids are in college.

    • chargernj says:

      Depends on the school. The college I work for doesn’t factor in the other parents income if they are divorced. The FAFSA doesn’t either, but some colleges have their own separate forms. The FAFSA does ask if the custodial parent receives child support, and they also give you a break if you have to pay child support.

  5. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    We’re going through this now, with two kids, for the first time. HTF am I supposed to file early and give them my 1040 crap when none of our financial institutions or employers have sent us W2’s 1099’s etc.???

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      IIRC, W2s and 1099s are due by the end of January, so you should see them by mid-February at the latest. Once you get that, most people can file.

      • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

        We were filling these things out last night and they want 2011 tax year data. The company I work for ALWAYS screws up the W2’s and is late. That’s nice because it torques my immigration applications but this year will be extra special, I know it will ;^( Plus, I get to pay the CPA extra just for the amendments we end up filing. *grumble* Some of the colleges wanted this info even though the deadline for application was last year.

        I’m thinking I might as well file a guesstimate return and then wait for all the screwed up W2’s and late 1099’s and BS so I can take my time to do the amendment this year.

        • ecwis says:

          It’d be easier to just estimate your income on your FAFSA instead of on your tax return. The Financial Aid Department will make appropriate changes once you send in your tax return.

          • Aesha says:

            Kinda late to the party, but wanted to make a comment – I work in financial aid, and we don’t make corrections to students aid, except in particular circumstances. The parent/student needs to go in and make corrections if using 2010 tax information to estimate the FAFSA. If nothing else, it will make it go faster than waiting for the FAA to do it when there’s thousands of other students needing something done too. If it’s found out later that the information is incorrect, that can affect your aid package – which is always an unpleasant surprise.

    • Thaddeus says:

      When filing, the FAFSA will ask what kind of return you intend to file. You can answer “will file” and it will allow you to enter in estimated 2011 tax information. You can always go back in and enter the updated information. As was mentioned, the FA office can do it as well.

      It’s usually a good idea to make sure it’s filed and update later – many states and schools have set filing deadlines.

  6. rob3912811 thinks this site is full of retards and assclowns with cats for friends. says:

    Also, be sure to file a FAFSA even if you have no expectation or desire for Federal based financial aid. Many institutions use the FAFSA data to determine whether or not you’re deserving of their own funds. In short, there’s no downside to filing…aside from the ridiculous amount of time spend completing it!

  7. smo0 says:

    Things not listed here… if you’re under 24 – you cannot get around putting in both your parents’ tax info… I don’t know if they fixed this but I’ve been on my own since 17 and they said if I was under 24 my parents’ tax financial info was needed before I could apply for Fafsa and I couldn’t apply for loans without doing fafsa first….

    • Thaddeus says:

      There is the option to keep (it will keep asking if you are unable/unwilling to provide parental data) You can keep going until you reach the submission page. Once submitted, you would need to contact your FA office and they will override it without parent information however you would ONLY be able to get unsubusdized Direct Loans.

      If you think your situation merits it, talk to you FA office about and independent override. They can make you independent if there are family issues, serious stuff like missing/deceased parents, abuse substations, and you could be eligible for federal or state grant funds.

    • chargernj says:

      You only have to put in the information for the parents you actually live with. If your parent is divorced, you just put in the info for one parent. If your parent is remarried, then you need both your parent and step-parent info.

  8. Moosehawk says:

    My biggest suggestion for students that are filling out a fafsa: DO IT YOURSELF! I know way too many people who had their moms and dads help them fill it out and they were completely clueless about their own finances.

    • AcctbyDay says:

      THIS +1MILLION. My parents had been lying to me for years about aspects of their finances so they could borrow money from me. It all came unraveled when I filled out my own FAFSA. I still never got an explanation of why they lied to me. DO IT YOURSELF. If your parents are uncomfortable with sharing financial information you had better have a sit down like adults.

  9. Thaddeus says:

    ***Financial Aid lackey speaking***:

    1. You can complete it with estimated 2011 tax information – File early! Update later!
    2. After Feb 1st, if you filed taxes, you can import your tax data directly from the IRS right into the application.
    3. Be sure to include EVERYONE in your parents home in the house hold size. Grandparents can count.
    4. Nothing on the FAFSA is set in stone! While it is treated as a fiscal snap shot (as of the day you file) many school will allow for appeals. Popular reasons include: Divorce/separation, loss of employment or untaxed benefit, and high medical and dental costs.

    You should NEVER assume you’re too rich to file or too poor to afford college. When in doubt, call your schools FA office and ask for help (but walk in’s are probably going to get questions answered faster).

  10. fordprefect says:

    FIY the Main Street article is pimping a guy that charges you $1550 to fill out your FAFSA.

    Takes 13 pages to read the whole article.

    Wotta waste of time.

  11. khooray says:

    You don’t have to give your parent’s income if you claim yourself on your taxes (they’re not claiming you as a dependent on theirs).

    • Thaddeus says:

      Sadly, claiming yourself won’t exempt you from providing parent information. Claimed dependents on taxes and household on the FAFSA are totally separate. You can be making $40K, be 22, and own your own home (I’ve seen it) and you’re still going to have to provide parent information.

      • chargernj says:

        I’m a college financial aid counselor, if a student like that came into my office I would probably be able to make them “Independent” if they had supporting documentation

  12. BelleSade says:

    So I’m 21 and getting married soon, but have no job/income… in my state that means I don’t have to file taxes, so how am I supposed to fill in the FAFSA now?

  13. BurtReynolds says:

    I filled out a FAFSA heading into my freshman year and found out they expected my parent’s “contribution” to be about 1/3 of their income.

    Then I saw that they would only allow me to take out about 1/4 of the money I needed, with the rest apparently being my parent’s debt.

    Two years later, I filled out another FAFSA as my brother was now also in college. My middle class parents are apparently expected to pay for two SUNY tuitions out of their salary. Let me also add that we were in Upstate NY. This is not a case of a “modest” $200k a year income home in Nassau County where they appear “rich”, but are very much middle class.

    Needless to say, neither of us bothered with FAFSA after that and had to turn to Citibank to pay for college. Luckily the adjustable rate private loan is benefiting from low interest rates right now.

  14. Nic715 says:

    Tip #4: If you’re over 25, childless and unmarried, be prepared to be denied or low-balled with any form or free or subsidized money. It doesn’t matter if you make less than $23k a year or will need to quit your job because your program requires full-time attendance, they don’t care.

    After 3 years of careful planning, budgeting and saving, I am finally going back to school this semester. I filed my taxes the day I received my info from work and then filled out my FAFSA immediately. I was offered 2k in subsidized loans and 7k in unsubsidized loans and offered work study. So, basically I’d still be responsible for the interest on the 7k (plus whatever they’d decide to offer next year) while I’m in school….full time…and still have rent/utilities/insurance/etc. to pay.

    Meanwhile, TWO financial aide counselors told me flat out… “You’re almost 30…have a kid and come back and see how things change.” Excuse me?? I know I’ve said this before on here, but I’m going back to school because the BA I received in 2005 is basically worthless…I can BARELY support myself, LET ALONE a child. I’m trying to be proactive and go back to school to earn my RN BEFORE I have kids because I KNOW I wouldn’t be able to do it without tax-payer/gov’t assistance if I stayed in my current situation. I’m trying to be smart about my future…and I feel as if I’m being punished for it.

    • Thaddeus says:

      You have my sympathy. If someone in your schools FA office is telling you to come back and see if things change they are not doing you any favors (and that sounds like shoddy service as well). The FAFSA calculation take many things into consideration but I see it helping less people. The actual formula is quite ridiculous. The federal hand out is 36 pages. http://ifap.ed.gov/efcformulaguide/attachments/082511EFCFormulaGuide1213.pdf

      You may want to speak to your FA office and see if they would allow for an appeal. If you’re going to school full time and would not be working full time in 12-13 you may be able to have them factor out your 2011 earnings (they call it a professional judgment).

      The way the formula is set up for next aid year, if your AGI is less than 23K and you’re able to file a 1040a or 1040ez, your EFC should be a Zero.

    • FightOnTrojans says:

      “…because the BA I received in 2005…”

      This right here is probably why you received the financial aid offer you received: you already have a degree. The addition of a child or spouse will not impact your financial aid. The school I worked at had a very extensive financial aid program that sought to ensure that every student was able to pay for college. However, once you exceeded either the maximum credits or maximum semesters, you would no longer be eligible for any university-funded need-based financial aid. This may be the scenario at your school as well. I would check back with your financial aid office (preferably with a supervisor) to see if that is the true reason for the offer you received.

      • FightOnTrojans says:

        “The addition of a child or spouse will not impact your financial aid.”

        …in this scenario.

      • Nic715 says:

        I had a feeling the previous degree had something to do with it…although, they didn’t bother to tell me that. What really bothers me is that I didn’t use a DIME of aid during undergrad. My parents paid out of pocket, which is great as I don’t currently have student loans to worry about, but as my expected family contribution is zero and as someone who has never borrowed before you’d they’d take that into consideration.

        I’m going in to speak to a financial aid rep. tomorrow. My father is an alumni of the college AND he worked there for 35 years until he retired in ’06. I’m HOPING there’s a few “legacy” type scholarships I at least qualify for…they wouldn’t speak to me at all about financial aid or my other possible options until I was officially accepted and had sent in my commitment form, so I wasn’t able to get that info. before.

        • FightOnTrojans says:

          Definitely a good idea to go in and talk with someone. You mention that your father worked there for 35 years: do they offer any tuition benefits for current or former employees? Again, using my previous employer as a reference, while I was employed there, my children would receive 100% of their tuition paid if admitted and enrolled, and my spouse would get 50%. If my children wanted to go to another school, my employer participated in a network of schools that would reciprocate tuition benefits with each other, so they would possibly get free tuition at almost any school they chose. After “X” amount of years (I think it was 20-25), one could retire or leave and still enjoy those benefits, based on whatever the monetary value of the tuition was at the time they retired or left. Your father, with 35 years in, would definitely qualify, if your school has a similar program. Or maybe he wants to go back to work there for 4 years? Definitely worth investigating further. Be forewarned, however: these benefits may have serious tax implications, for you and/or your father.

          True story: A mother came in one day wanting help in getting a better financial aid package for her kid. I asked her what she did for a living, she said she used to be a secretary but was currently a homemaker caring for the child that was about to enter college and would probably be going back to work since her home was soon going to be empty and to help pay for college. I printed out a list of the job openings and sent her to HR. Saw her on campus a month or two later while she was doing her orientation and she thanked me for the tip. She took full advantage of that tuition benefit.

  15. LuckyLady says:

    My husband (39) is going back to college part time to get his first bachelors degree, while working full time. He’s going to a state university and we’re paying cash (it’s about $1700/term plus books). I work full time, and we have a toddler. Is it really worth it for us to do a FAFSA? I suspect he’d be eligible for federal loans, which I am meh about. Our AGI was about $125k last year. Not sure if there’s any point in completing a FAFSA or not.

    • Pastry Minion says:

      Yes, you probably should. I’m in a similar situation (adult student, undergrad, moderate income, paying cash for tuition). Even though I doubt I’ll qualify for anything but loans, which I don’t need right now, my school requires you to complete a FAFSA in order to be eligible for scholarship money (even if it’s not a need-based scholarship). If his grades are good he may qualify after his first semester, so it’s worth looking into. That’s the only reason I’m bothering with it.

  16. chargernj says:

    I’m a financial aid counselor at a college and I’m appalled that some people get suckered into paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for FAFSA prep services. I also see alot of students and parents who later have to drop out because they didn’t realize they would be taking out massive loans year after year. So, I think there is a legitimate market for financial aid consultants to help families in doing the FAFSA and planning out how they will pay for college.

    My plan is to offer FAFSA prep services. Once the FAFSA is complete and they begin receiving acceptance letters, I will offer to go over their award letters and try and calculate just how much they will need to borrow over the next 4-5 years. Basically it will be my intention to guide students and families through the process.

    So my question is, how much should I charge for basic FAFSA prep? And how much to charge for the additional planning services?