Jar full of quarters sitting next two three more stacks of quarters on table

Top 10 Things to Remember Before Filing the FAFSA

Fall is FAFSA season, but before you dive into the application, there are some things you should have ready. Remember these 10 things before filing your forms.

Fall is notorious for football games, cool weather, pumpkin patches, and for many families, tackling the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you are heading to college next year, completing and filing the FAFSA is likely on your and your parents’ minds. It’s best to stop thinking and start doing—you should try to file the FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible, as most aid is administered on a first come, first served basis and can run out. While the federal government has made the whole filing process much easier, there are still some key things to remember when completing the FAFSA. Here’s everything you need to know.

1. Gather the appropriate information

Before you dive into the FAFSA, make sure you have all the required documentation. This includes:

  • Social security number (parents and student)
  • Alien registration number (if you are not a US citizen)
  • Driver’s license
  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, other records of money earned, and records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • Bank statements and records of investments
  • FSA ID to sign electronically (each parent and student needs an FSA ID)
  • List of schools you’re interested in attending

If you’re a parent filing the FAFSA for your child, they will also need to provide many of the above documents

Related: 5 Things Parents Need to Know About the FAFSA

2. File a new FAFSA each year

Even if this is your fourth time around, you need to file a new FAFSA with current information each year. The amount of money you’re offered for each FAFSA application lasts for an academic year, so for each year your child plans on being in school, you will need to reapply for federal aid. For example, after October 1, 2019, you will file the FAFSA for the 2020–2021 school year.

3. Complete and file early

Get your calendar out, because you have an important date to write down. The FAFSA is available online starting October 1 of each calendar year. This means you can begin filling it out on that date, and you should file as soon as possible after that date. If you’re not able to file early, make sure to check with the admission and financial aid office at each of the schools you’re applying to. While the official deadline to file the FAFSA is June 30, 2021, you need to meet the deadlines set by each of the schools on your list.

4. Use the Data Retrieval Tool

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) electronically transfers your tax return information to your FAFSA. Not only does this save time, it also ensures that you input accurate information.

5. Know which parent should file

In the case of a student with divorced or unmarried parents, Leslie H. Tayne, Esq., a financial attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group, says it can be difficult to determine which parent is supposed to file the FAFSA and whose income is accounted for. “If one parent has full custody, that parent should file, but if custody is split, the parent who provides greater financial support to the child should file,” she explains. And if the parent filing is remarried, Tayne says that parent’s new spouse’s financial information must also be included on the FAFSA.

6. Register for the selective services

All males age 18–26 must register with Selective Service to be eligible for federal student aid. If you have not registered, there is a section on the FAFSA that allows applicants to have the US Department of Education complete this process with Selective Service. Just make sure to check the “Register me” box.

7. Don’t omit information

This is one of the most frequent mistakes people make on the FAFSA. When inputting information, make sure to fill in every single field. If you leave a field blank, it’s assumed that you forgot to answer the question. When in doubt, enter a “0” or “not applicable” instead of leaving a blank.

Related: Financial Aid Application Mistakes Can Cost You

8. Send to all schools

Lindsey Conger, an independent college counselor at MoonPrep.com, always reminds families she works with to send the FAFSA to all your schools. When you send the FAFSA out, it will only allow you to send it out to 10 schools initially. However, once you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), you can then send that to every school on your list.

9. Always complete the FAFSA

Even if you feel your family’s income is high, Joe DePaulo, cofounder and CEO of College Ave Student Loans, says you needto apply. “Many factors—not just household income—go into determining how much aid students receive,” he says. The number of people in the household, child support costs, and home equity can also impact a student’s award package. Minimally, DePaulo says most undergraduate students qualify for unsubsidized federal loans, and since access to these loans is not need based, your income doesn’t matter. Plus, if your student does need to borrow, those Federal Direct Loans are the best place to start since they have low fixed interest rates and repayment protections. 

10. Sign with your FSA ID

Do not skip this step! When filing the FAFSA online, both parents and the student must sign electronically with their FSA ID in order for the application to process.

Related: 7 Things You Need to Do Before Filing the FAFSA

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to filling out the FAFSA. Make sure you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to fill out your application efficiently and as accurately as possible. Being meticulous and careful with the FAFSA will ensure you get the most amount possible back on your aid offers.

While you’re completing the FAFSA, don’t forget about scholarships too! Find free money using our Scholarship Search tool.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:
fafsa financial aid money for college paying for college scholarships student loans

About Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer and former secondary school counselor. She has a Master of Education in Counseling and 20 years of experience working with middle and high school students and their parents. 

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo

$10,000

Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Abhishek Kumar

Abhishek Kumar

High School Class of 2022

As a high schooler, I know how hard it is to plan for college. You have to consider a lot of factors: SAT/ACT scores, college searches, scholarships, and more. CollegeXpress has been a helpful resource that solves all these problems. One can easily create a free account and search away. They help you search for scholarships and colleges, they have graduate program search, they have lists and rankings, and so much more. CX also has a lot of articles and advice to read—whether it’s financial aid, test prep, campus visits, internships/careers, or anything. Not only that, CX gives out free scholarship money to students who sign up and create a free CX account. I love CX and will continue to use it! Thank you CollegeXpress for making my college journey easier!

Tinuola Dada

Tinuola Dada

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2015

I am very excited to be this year's recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship. This scholarship will bring me ever closer to my academic and professional goals. CollegeXpress has been an exceptional resource to me, and I recommend it to all rising seniors as they begin to navigate the college application process.

Jada Bohanon

Jada Bohanon

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships for the colleges I applied to. It was very hard for me to find scholarships in the beginning that I was qualified for. My teachers recommended this website to find some, and not only did I find some scholarships but I also got to look into some schools I hadn’t heard of before. I was very happy to have discovered this website, especially with the coronavirus spreading all over as I can’t really go visit many colleges.

Asia Stockdale

Asia Stockdale

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me overcome a huge hurdle. Because of the small town I live in, I felt like I would never achieve more. I felt like I could never go beyond because of costs. I feared I wouldn’t be able to find scholarships. I had no idea of where to start. With CollegeXpress, I easily found scholarships—they came to me. It was a helper, and I was instantly matched with opportunities to go above and beyond educationally.

Brooke Maggio

Brooke Maggio

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously in my college search in narrowing down the schools I’m interested in. Using the college search tool, I was able to narrow down my choices to schools that matched what I was looking for. I also used CollegeXpress for their scholarship search, which helped me find scholarships that I meet the requirements of.

College Matches