Filling Out the FAFSA | Federal Student Aid

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

Let’s review what to expect.

Filling Out the FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA® can be a straightforward and easy process. The online FAFSA at fafsa.gov 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 now? Go for it!
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Creating an FSA ID

We strongly recommend you create an FSA ID, a username and password combination that allows you to sign your FAFSA® electronically. Your FSA ID also can be used to sign loan contracts and to access certain information online. You can get your FSA ID as you fill out the FAFSA, but you also have the option to get it ahead of time.  Find out how to get an FSA ID and what to do if you forgot your FSA ID.

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

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Gathering the Documents Needed to Apply

The FAFSA asks 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 FAFSA:

  • Your Social Security number (it’s important that you enter it correctly on the FAFSA!)
  • 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 and/or
    • 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.

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

Getting Help

If you need help filling out the FAFSA, 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).
  • 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.
  • For details about the purpose of FAFSA questions and how information should be reported in some unusual cases, try our guide called Completing the FAFSA.

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Woman with headphones on a computer
Although the FAFSA®  is compatible with Macintosh, Mac users will have a slightly different experience on fafsa.gov than PC users.
 

Starting Your FAFSA® and Providing Your Basic Personal Information

The FAFSA 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 a FAFSA for the first time, go to fafsa.gov and click on "Start A New FAFSA." As you start your FAFSA, keep the following in mind:

  • Your name and Social Security number must match those on your Social Security card.
  • If you’re concerned about providing your personal information on the login 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, 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 pass the FAFSA back and forth 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.

If you filled out a FAFSA 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, you must list at least one college 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

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

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

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Determining Your Dependency Status

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

  • If you are filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you will need 2015 tax information.
  • If you are filling out the 2017–18 FAFSA, you will also need 2015 tax information. (Starting with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you'll need to report income information from the tax year two years prior to the academic year. Learn more about the 2017–18 FAFSA.)
     

 Automatically Filling in Your Tax Information Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) provides tax data that automatically fills in information for part of the FAFSA. Learn about the spring/summer 2017 outage of the IRS DRT and how you can access your tax information without it.

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Signing and Submitting the FAFSA®

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

  • Be sure to sign with your FSA ID (your username and password) so your FAFSA will be processed as quickly as possible.
  • Once you see your confirmation page, you’ll know you’ve successfully submitted your FAFSA. If you provided an email address on your FAFSA, you’ll automatically receive the confirmation page by email. There are a few differences between the emailed confirmation and the one you’ll see in the FAFSA 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.
  • When you fill out the FAFSA, 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 the FAFSA that allows you to transfer your information directly into your state aid application, so if you see a link on 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 to be transferred automatically into another student’s FAFSA. So if you have a sibling who needs to fill out a FAFSA, 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, there are more steps you have to take before you receive financial aid. Make sure you know what happens after you submit your FAFSA.

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