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10 Essential Tips to Make Filing a FAFSA Easy

10 Essential Tips to Make Filing a FAFSA Easy - TaxACT

Before venturing off to college, filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a necessary step in order to qualify for federal student aid.

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is administered by the Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. This office provides more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to post-secondary students every year.

To help you successfully complete this form, here are 10 tips to keep in mind:

1. Complete a FAFSA even if you think you won’t qualify for financial aid

Think your family’s income is too high for federal student aid? You might be surprised to find out it’s not.

If a student attends a public college, his or her family can make up to $80,000 per year and still receive aid. If the student attends private college, however, the family income may be up to twice that amount!

Plus, in order to apply for other forms of financial aid – including grants from the college or university – you must fill out the FAFSA first.

2. Fill out the application online

The easiest and quickest way to file a FAFSA is online. Check out the Federal Student Aid website here when you’re ready to get started.

3. Have your personal information handy

Before you begin the form, make sure you have this information available:

  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Recent federal income tax returns, W-2 forms and other proof of income, such as pay stubs
  • Bank and brokerage statements and records of any other investments
  • Records of nontaxable income, such as municipal bonds

You may also need this information from a stepparent if the student lives with a parent and stepparent.

4. Don’t delay

Allow plenty of time to fill out the application. You’ll need a lot of information, some of which you may need to get from other people.

It’s best to complete the FAFSA as close to the beginning of January as possible to make sure you meet all federal and state deadlines for financial assistance.

5. Get a Federal Student Aid PIN

To sign the FAFSA electronically, a personal identification number (PIN) is needed. Visit to apply for one.

6. Understand who is considered the child’s parent

If the student’s legal parents are married or not married but are living together, use the financial information for both parents.

If the student’s parent is widowed or never married, use that parent’s financial information.

In the case that the parents are divorced or separated and not living together, use the information for the parent with whom the student lived with the most during the last 12 months. If the student lived with each parent the same amount of time, use information for the parent who provided the most financial support.

7. Estimate numbers if you haven’t filed your income tax return

If you haven’t finished your tax return for the previous year, don’t let that stop you from completing the FAFSA. The numbers can always be updated later.

8. File a FAFSA every year the student needs financial aid

Yes, you get to do this again – and again. Don’t worry about starting over from scratch, though. Simply make adjustments as necessary each year.

9. Learn about the different types of student aid grants available through the U.S. Department of Education

Fortunately, grants do not have to be paid back. The four types are:

  • Federal Pell Grants. Up to $5,920 (2017-2018 school year) is awarded to undergraduate students based on financial needs and other factors.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). These grants are awarded to students with exceptional financial needs, based on availability of funds at the college.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. This aid is available for students who intend to teach in public or private schools that serve students from low-income families.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. These grants are for dependents of members of the Armed Forces who died as the result of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Applying for a FAFSA can also help a student get scholarships and student loans.

10. Get a jump start on the FAFSA by using TaxAct’s FAFSA Summary Worksheet

TaxAct’s printable College Financial Aid Worksheet includes all the tax information you need to complete the FAFSA online at



TaxAct makes preparing and filing your taxes quick, easy and affordable so you get your maximum refund. It’s the best deal in tax. Start free now or sign into your TaxAct Account.
About Sally Herigstad

Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and personal finance columnist and author of Help! I Can't Pay My Bills, Surviving a Financial Crisis (St. Martin's Griffin). She writes regularly at,,, RedPlum, and MSN Money. She is an experienced speaker and a member of Toastmasters International. Follow Sally on Twitter.