MONEYSCHOOL'S Simplified Guide
to FAFSA and Federal Student Aid

Section 15: Completing The FAFSA

Now we come to the application itself.  A lot of the frustrations associated with completing the FAFSA have to do with assembling all of the information you will need, especially about your family’s finances. 

If your parents are divorced, or your family or financial situation is otherwise complicated, it’s a bit more of a challenge and you need to take the time necessary to understand exactly what is required.  For example, if your parents are divorced, you are only required to provide financial information for the custodial parent.  Including financial information for both parents could reduce the amount of aid you receive.

The Office of Federal Student Aid strongly recommends that you complete the online version of FAFSA (FAFSA on the Web) at www.fafsa.ed.gov rather than a paper FAFSA.  Not only is it faster and easier, the online application contains internal checks that will help you avoid errors.  And if you have to make corrections, that is easier online too. 

Some of the information you need for the FAFSA is basic stuff like social security number, driver’s license number, state of residence, citizenship, and marital status.  If you are a dependent student, a lot of the same information must be provided for your parents.  By the way, some of this info, e.g., your social security number, will be checked to make sure it matches up with government records.

The FAFSA contains several questions designed to determine whether you will be classified as a dependent or independent student.  That’s important because it affects your EFC as well as the limits on certain types of loans.  There are also questions about your course of study, your level in school and whether you will be a full-time student. 
 
The hardest part of the FAFSA is the part that deals with your family’s finances.  You will have to provide a lot of information and answer a lot of questions about sources of income as well as assets like savings and investments.  If you are a dependent student, your parents will have to provide similar information about their finances.  A number of the questions you will encounter deal with things that probably don’t apply to most applicants, like child support or combat pay

If you plan to complete your FAFSA online, you can download a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to help you prepare.  You will find a link to the worksheet in the box titled “Before Beginning a FAFSA” at www.fafsa.ed.gov.  

The worksheet lets you see all of the questions you will encounter on the application, so you can pull together everything you need before you go online to complete the application.  FAFSA on the Web has instructions available for each question on the application, and you can access live assistance from a customer service representative if you need more help.

There are some things you should think about to make sure you get as much financial aid as possible. The fewer assets you and your parents can legitimately show on the FAFSA, the more aid you are eligible to receive. 

So, for example, if your grandparents are going to contribute to your education, you don’t want them to give you money in advance because that additional cash must be shown on your FAFSA, which will increase your EFC and reduce the amount of aid you are awarded. 

If your grandparents transfer the money to your parents, it would still show up on your parents’ section of the FAFSA and affect your aid.  A better strategy might be to ask your grandparents to help you pay off loans you have to take out for school.

Similarly, if you have saved money for college, anything you spend before you submit the FAFSA, say for a computer or other supplies for school, will reduce the amount you have to show on your FAFSA.