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How to Fill Out a FAFSA Correctly

Each October, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA is made available for the next school year. This is the form that families fill out to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study funds for college students. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year.

Your eligibility for federal grants (which don’t have to be repaid) and federal loans (which do) will generally be based on your financial need, and this is determined by the information you supply on your FAFSA.  You can apply online or print out a PDF from the website and mail it in.

Filling out this form may seem like a daunting task, but changes to the process have made it easier than ever before. Before you start, have the following information ready:

  • Social Security number or Alien Registration number
  • Federal tax information or tax returns
  • Records of untaxed income
  • Cash, savings, checking account balances
  • Investments other than your home

To complete the form online, follow these 8 steps:

1. Create an account (FSA ID). You and your child should create your FSA IDs. This serves as your legal electronic signature.

2. Start the FAFSA form. 

3. Fill out the Student Demographics section.  Here’s where you’ll enter basic information about your child. Be sure you type in your child’s name and number exactly as it appears on their Social Security card.

4. List the schools to which you want your FAFSA information sent.  Add every school your child is considering, even if he or she hasn’t applied or been accepted yet.

5. Answer the dependency status questions.  These are questions to determine if your child is required to provide parent information on the FAFSA form. Even if your child supports him or herself, files taxes separately from you, or doesn’t live with you, he or she may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes.

6. Fill out the Parent Demographics section. 

7. Supply your financial information.  This step is simple if you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). This allows you to import your IRS tax information with just a few clicks.

8. Sign your child’s FAFSA form. The quickest and easiest way to sign your child’s FAFSA form is online with your FSA ID. Each state and school has its own deadline, so make sure you check the school’s website or call its financial aid office. You’ll find state deadlines on the FAFSA website.

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