college student sitting at his desk in his dorm

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form can determine how much money you or your child receives in student aid. Filling it out incorrectly can greatly impact your aid ability. Next year’s aid form is available online on October 1. Let’s look at the ways to set you up for success to fill out the form correctly so you can submit it early. The earlier you complete your entire application package may determine what aid you receive: Some aid is awarded until it runs out, so the early bird gets the worm!

Let’s look at what you do and don’t have to do to prep now.

Determine Whose Financial Information You Need to Report

If you are a dependent student, you need to report yours and your parents’ financial information. If your parents are divorced or were never married or you were raised by one parent, you would report the information of the parent who provides most of your financial support over a 12-month time frame. This normally aligns to the person who declares you as a dependent when filing their taxes. Keep in mind you need to also declare the income of stepparents who claim you on their taxes.

If you are an independent student – for example, if you are married, will turn at least 24 years old by December 31 of the award year, or are a veteran or serving on active duty for the U.S. military – you only need to declare your own income.

You No Longer Need Physical Tax Forms

In the past, you needed to have tax forms for you and your family on hand. Not anymore. You can import numbers from a prior tax year through a link within the online FAFSA form. (For the 2019/2020 academic year, you’ll use 2017 tax numbers.) However, while this feature is available on FAFSA.gov, it is not yet available on the FAFSA app, says Richard Castellano, Sallie Mae spokesperson. The tax information import feature should be available on the app by October 1, but the date is not confirmed. You can always fill out other information on the app and then add the tax info through the website.

Bank and Asset Statements

Questions on the FAFSA consider money you have in cash, savings and investment accounts – other than a 401(k) – as assets. Investment farms also count. Knowing this ahead of time, be sure to have financial statements for those account ready to reference. It’s important to note that 401(k)s don’t count as income or assets that you need to report on your FAFSA.

Important Information from Contributors

Each person who must provide information in order to complete the FAFSA form needs their own Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Thus, if you need to provide income for yourself and both parents, you and your parents all need your own FSA IDs. Visit the FSA website and input all required information. When you fill out the FAFSA, you will need the Social Security and driver’s license numbers and birthdates for yourself and, depending on your situation, your parents or your spouse.

Your Initial School List

While you can amend your school list later, it’s advisable to be ready to list your top 10 schools. Because applications for schools are due around the same time, state schools may be able to give you more aid if you list them first – it shows you’re seriously considering them – before they run out of their allotted state aid they can award. Plus, you can use this as a reason to call schools and ask questions. This is also a great time to go on campus visits and stop into the important offices you’ll utilize as a student – offices such as career services, financial aid and department offices in your major.

Extra Applications

When you’ve completed your online FAFSA, you may see a step for inputting information for state forms. Don’t click out of this screen: You could be missing out on state scholarships or grants. Look closely for extra steps that are needed, such as supplying letters of recommendation. You may want to give yourself an extra 15 – 30 minutes for filling out these forms.

What questions do you have about filling out the FAFSA form? Let us know in the comments below.

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