You know you have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form, but maybe you’re not sure what to do. 

Let’s review what to expect.

Filling Out the FAFSA® Form

Filling out the FAFSA® form can be a straightforward and easy process. The fafsa.gov site will guide you through the application; click on the “Start A New FAFSA” button on the home page, and just follow the directions on the screen. Below are some tips to help you along the way.

Ready to fill out the FAFSA® form now? Go for it!
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Try This Resource
The FAFSA Process graphic—Walks through the process of preparing for, completing, and submitting a FAFSA form. Includes info on what happens after the form is submitted.

Creating an FSA ID

We strongly recommend you create an FSA ID, a username and password combination that allows you to sign your FAFSA® form electronically. Your FSA ID also can be used to sign loan contracts and to access certain information online. While you can get your FSA ID as you’re completing the FAFSA form, getting it ahead of time and using it to begin your FAFSA form on fafsa.gov cuts down on errors and delays. Find out how to get an FSA ID and what to do if you forgot your FSA ID.

Important note: If you’re a dependent student, one of your parents whose information is reported on the FAFSA form will also need an FSA ID so that he or she can sign your application.

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Creating your FSA ID before you begin the FAFSA® form only takes a few minutes and could prevent processing delays.

Tip: Use your FSA ID to start your FAFSA form.
When you create your FSA ID, be careful to enter your name and Social Security number exactly as they appear on your Social Security card. Then, when you go to fafsa.gov to start your application, you will be given the option to “Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID” or to “Enter the student’s information.”

If you log in with your FSA ID, certain information (including your name, Social Security number, and date of birth) will be automatically loaded into your application. This will prevent you from running into a common error that occurs when your verified FSA ID information doesn’t match the information on your FAFSA form. Additionally, you won’t have to provide your FSA ID again to sign your FAFSA form electronically or to use the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) if you’re eligible.

The student is the one applying for financial aid, so be sure it’s the student entering his or her FSA ID where it says “Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID.” Do not start the FAFSA form by supplying the parent’s FSA ID.

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Gathering the Documents Needed to Apply

The FAFSA questions ask for information about you (your name, date of birth, address, etc.) and about your financial situation. Depending on your circumstances (for instance, whether you’re a U.S. citizen or what tax form you used), you might need the following information or documents as you fill out the application:

  • Your Social Security number (it’s important that you enter it correctly on the FAFSA form!)
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers if you are a dependent student
  • Your driver’s license number if you have one
  • Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information, for you (and your spouse, if you are married), and for your parents if you are a dependent student:
    • IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student

Keep these records! You may need them again. Do not mail your records to us.
 

Try This Resource
2018–19 FAFSA on the Web Worksheet—Provides a preview of the questions students and parents may be asked while completing the FAFSA form.

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One thing you don’t need for the FAFSA®  form is money! The FAFSA form is FREE, so if a website asks you to pay to fill it out, you’re not dealing with the official FAFSA site. Remember, this is a government application, so it’s on a .gov site: fafsa.gov.

Getting Help

If you need help filling out the FAFSA form, use these free tools:

  • Read the “Help and Hints” located on the right side of any FAFSA entry page. (The hints change depending on what question you’re on.)
  • Click “Need Help?” at the bottom of any FAFSA entry page (in other words, any page where you’re entering information into the application). Note: Clicking “Need Help?” doesn’t close the page you’re working on, so you don’t have to worry about losing your place in the application.
  • Chat (in English or Spanish) with live technical support staff by clicking the “Help” icon with the big question mark at the top of any FAFSA entry page, and then selecting "Contact Us," "Federal Student Aid Information Center," and then "Chat With Us." (Note: The "Chat With Us" option isn't visible outside of business hours, which are listed on the Federal Student Aid Information Center contact page.)
  • Contact the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend.
     

Try This Resource
2018–19 Completing the FAFSA® Form—Provides an overview of the FAFSA® form and the application process with a walk-through of each application question.

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Although fafsa.gov is compatible with Macintosh, Mac users will have a slightly different experience on fafsa.gov than PC users.

Starting Your FAFSA® Form and Providing Your Basic Personal Information

The FAFSA form is available on Oct. 1 for the next school year. We encourage you to fill it out as soon as possible on or after Oct. 1 to meet FAFSA deadlines.

If you are starting the application for the first time, go to fafsa.gov and click on "Start A New FAFSA." As you begin, keep the following in mind:

  • Your name and Social Security number must match those on your Social Security card. Follow this tip to avoid getting a notice that your information doesn’t match the Social Security Administration’s records (or your FSA ID account).
  • If you’re concerned about providing your personal information on the log-in page, choose the virtual keyboard option for additional security.
  • Near the beginning of the application, you’ll create a “save key,” a temporary password that you’ll use if you start your FAFSA form, save it without finishing it, then want to open it again later to finish it. One benefit of the save key is that students and parents can use this function to access the FAFSA form if they are completing the FAFSA in separate locations. (Unlike with the FSA ID, which needs to be kept private, it’s okay to tell your parent what your save key is.)
  • If you are applying for a summer session, contact the financial aid office at your college to find out which school year you should select when you complete your FAFSA form.

If you filled out a FAFSA form last year and want to renew it, click “Login” on the home page, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.

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Listing Colleges and/or Career Schools

While completing the FAFSA form, you must list at least one school to receive your information. The schools you list will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of aid you may receive.

For purposes of federal student aid, it does not matter in what order you list the schools. However, to be considered for state aid, some states require you to list schools in a particular order (for instance, you might need to list a state school first). Find out whether your state has a requirement for the order in which you list schools on your FAFSA form

You can list up to 10 schools on fafsa.gov or up to four schools on a paper FAFSA form. (You can add more schools to your FAFSA form later.) Schools you list on the application will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically.

Note: Schools will not be able to see which other schools you listed on your FAFSA form.

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Determining Your Dependency Status

The FAFSA form asks a series of questions that determine whether you are a dependent or independent student for purposes of applying for federal student aid. If you are a dependent student, you must report parent information, as well as your own information, on your application. If you’re curious, you can find out now whether you’re a dependent student.

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Reporting Parents’ Information

If you’re a dependent student, you’ll need to report parent information on your FAFSA form. Visit our page on reporting parent information to find out who counts as your parent, what to do if you don’t live with your parents, and what to do if you don’t have access to your parents’ financial information. 

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Your FAFSA information is safe with us! Is it safe with you? Read Federal Student Aid and Identity Theft to learn how we safeguard the personal information you report on fafsa.gov. We've also included some tips on what you can do (at home, online, or in the dorm) to keep your identity from being stolen.

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Providing Financial Information

The FAFSA form asks for financial information, including information from tax forms and balances of savings and checking accounts.

  • The 2018–19 FAFSA form asks for 2016 tax information.
  • If you are filling out the 2017–18 FAFSA form, you will need 2015 tax information.
     

Automatically Transferring Your Tax Information Using the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)

The IRS DRT automatically transfers tax information into the FAFSA form.  Be sure to consider this option if it’s offered to you. (If you got an extension on filing your taxes and didn’t file until September or October, find out when your tax return information will likely be available using the IRS DRT.) 

Note: The IRS DRT is available on the 2018–19 FAFSA form for eligible individuals. (You’ll need an FSA ID in order to use the tool.) However, the tool is not available on the 2017–18 FAFSA form. Find out how to fill out the 2017–18 FAFSA form without access to the IRS DRT.

Here’s how the IRS DRT process works, assuming your tax information is available:

  1. The IRS DRT takes you to the IRS website, where you’ll need to provide your name and other information exactly as you provided it on your tax return. Some information will be prepopulated from your FAFSA form.
  2. At the IRS site, you’ll see a page that indicates that your tax information is available. (You won’t see the actual information.) You can choose to import your information into the FAFSA form, or you can cancel your request and return to the FAFSA site.
  3. If you choose to import your information into the FAFSA form, you’ll find that on the FAFSA site, instead of your tax information being displayed, you’ll see “Transferred from the IRS” in the appropriate fields. You won’t be able to make changes to those answers.

Using the IRS DRT saves you time and effort:

  • You don’t have to find your tax records.
  • You don’t have to worry about making mistakes entering your tax information on your FAFSA® form.
  • You may not need to provide tax transcripts if you’re selected for verification.

Learn more about the IRS DRT and recent changes to its functionality, and find answers to frequently asked questions about the tool.

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Signing and Submitting the FAFSA® Form

Before your FAFSA form can be processed, you’ll need to sign and submit the application. Here are some tips as you finish your FAFSA form:

  • Be sure to sign with your FSA ID (your username and password) so your FAFSA form will be processed as quickly as possible. (If you log in to the form by providing your FSA ID, you won’t be asked for it again when it’s time to sign. However, if you’re providing parent information, one of your parents will be required to sign your application.)
  • Once you see your confirmation page, you’ll know you’ve successfully submitted your FAFSA form. If you provided an email address on the form, you’ll automatically receive the confirmation page by email. There are a few differences between the emailed confirmation and the one you’ll see on fafsa.gov before exiting the application, so consider printing or saving your confirmation page before you exit. For example, the emailed confirmation won’t include the college graduation, retention, and transfer rates for schools you listed on your FAFSA form.
  • When you fill out the FAFSA form, you’re also automatically applying for certain state financial aid. In some cases, the state requires an additional application in order to determine your eligibility for state aid. There are some states that have a partnership with our office that allows you to transfer your information directly into your state aid application, so if you see a link from your FAFSA confirmation page to your state financial aid application, you should click on it. (Please note that the link won't appear on the emailed confirmation page, so be sure to take advantage of it while you're still at the original confirmation page.)
  • Your confirmation page offers the option for the parent information in your FAFSA form to be transferred automatically into another student’s application. So if you have a sibling who needs to fill out a FAFSA form, be sure to use this option when you see your confirmation page. (Please note that the link won't appear on the emailed confirmation page, so be sure to take advantage of it while you're still at the original confirmation page.)

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Taking the Next Steps

Once you’ve completed your FAFSA form, there are more steps you have to take before you receive financial aid. Make sure you know what happens after you submit your FAFSA form.

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