How to fill out the FAFSA in 10 steps [with pictures] | finder.com
FAFSA in letters beside a piggy bank

10 steps to fill out the FAFSA

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A step-by-step guide with pictures for filling out your federal student aid application.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is notoriously time-consuming — as if applying for financial aid for the first time isn’t scary enough. But once you get started, you might be surprised to find it isn’t as much of a hassle as you’d expected.

These days, you can generally complete your entire application online in about 30 minutes online. We take you through each section to help you answer FAFSA questions and point out any roadblocks to avoid.

Step 1. Know your deadline.

FAFSA deadline for the 2019–2020 academic year: Saturday, June 30, 2020

Applications for the 2019-2020 academic year opened on October 1, 2018

Click on your school’s state below to learn about any specific due dates you need to keep in mind. Don’t know which school you’re going to yet? Look at the deadlines for all schools you’re considering attending.

StateDeadline
AlabamaCheck with your financial aid administrator.
AlaskaAlaska Performance Scholarship: For priority consideration, submit your
application by June 30, 2019. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
Alaska Education Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are
made until funds are depleted.
ArizonaCheck with your financial aid administrator.
ArkansasAcademic Challenge: June 1, 2019, by midnight CT
Workforce Grant: Check with your financial aid administrator.
Higher Education Opportunity Grant: June 1, 2019, by midnight CT
CaliforniaFor many state financial aid programs: March 2, 2019 (date postmarked)
Cal Grant also requires submission of a school-certified GPA by March 2,
2019. Applicants are encouraged to obtain proof of mailing their GPA and
to retain a copy of their GPA form.
For additional community college Cal Grants: Sept. 2, 2019 (date
postmarked)
If you’re a noncitizen without a Social Security card or had one issued
through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you
should fill out the California Dream Act Application found at
caldreamact.org. You do not need to fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible for
California student financial aid. Contact the California Student Aid
Commission (csac.ca.gov) or your financial aid administrator for more
information. Additional forms may be required. Applicants are encouraged
to keep a record of their submission by printing out their online FAFSA
confirmation page or obtaining proof of mailing the FAFSA form.
ColoradoCheck with your financial aid administrator.
ConnecticutFor priority consideration, submit your application by midnight CT, Feb. 15,2019. Additional forms may be required. Contact your financial aid
administrator or your state agency.
DelawareApril 15, 2019, by midnight CT.
Washington, D.CFAFSA applications are due by midnight CT on May 1, 2019, for priority consideration.

If you’re applying for the TCTAG, submit your DC OneApp with documentation by Thursday, May 31, 2019.

Federal States of MicronesiaCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
FloridaMay 15, 2019 (date processed).
GeorgiaCheck with your financial aid administrator.
GuamCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
HawaiiCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
IdahoOpportunity Grant: For priority consideration, submit your application by
midnight CT, March 1, 2019. Additional forms may be required. Contact
your financial aid administrator or your state agency.
IllinoisAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are
depleted.
IndianaFrank O’Bannon Grant: April 15, 2019, by midnight CT
21st Century Scholarship: April 15, 2019, by midnight CT
Adult Student Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are
made until funds are depleted. New applicants must submit additional
forms at ScholarTrack.IN.gov.
Workforce Ready Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018.
IowaJuly 1, 2019, by midnight CT. Earlier priority deadlines may exist for certain
programs. Additional forms may be required.
KansasFor priority consideration, submit your application by midnight CT, April 1,
2019. Additional forms may be required. Contact your financial aid
administrator or your state agency.
KentuckyAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards made until funds are
depleted.
LouisianaJuly 1, 2020 (July 1, 2019 recommended)
MaineMay 1, 2019, by midnight CT
Marshall IslandsCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
MarylandMarch 1, 2019, by midnight CT.
MassachusettsFor priority consideration, submit your application by midnight CT, May 1,
2019.
MichiganMarch 1, 2019, by midnight CT
MinnesotaYou must submit your FAFSA application within 30 days after the term starts by midnight CT.
MississippiMTAG and MESG Grants: Sept. 15, 2019, by midnight CT. Additional forms
may be required.
HELP Scholarship: March 31, 2019, by midnight CT. Additional forms may be
required.
MissouriFor priority consideration, submit your application by Feb. 1, 2019.
Applications are accepted through April 1, 2019, at midnight CT.
MontanaCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
Northern Mariana IslandsFor priority consideration, submit your application by midnight CT, April 30,
2019. Additional forms may be required.
NebraskaCheck with your financial aid administrator.
NevadaNevada Promise Scholarship: April 1, 2019. Additional forms may be
required. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
Silver State Opportunity Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018.
Awards are made until funds are depleted.
All other aid: Check with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms
may be required.
New HampshireVCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
New Jersey2018–19 Tuition Aid Grant recipients: April 15, 2019, by midnight CT
All other applicants
  • Fall and spring terms: Sept. 15, 2019, by midnight CT
  • Spring term only: Feb. 15, 2020, by midnight CT
New MexicoCheck with your financial aid administrator.
New YorkJune 30, 2020, by midnight CT. Additional forms may be required.
North CarolinaAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are
depleted.
North DakotaAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are
depleted.
OhioOct. 1, 2019, by midnight CT
OklahomaAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are
depleted.
OregonOSAC Private Scholarships: March 1, 2019. Additional forms may be
required.
Oregon Promise Grant: Contact your state agency. Additional forms may be
required.
Oregon Opportunity Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards
are made until funds are depleted.
PalauCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
PennsylaniaAll first-time applicants enrolled in a community college, business, trade, or
technical school, hospital school of nursing, designated Pennsylvania Open Admission institution, or nontransferable two-year program: Aug. 1, 2019,
by midnight CT
All other applicants: May 1, 2019, by midnight CT. Additional forms may be
required.
Puerto RicoCheck with your financial aid administrator.
Rhode IslandCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
South CarolinaTuition Grants: June 30, 2019, by midnight CT
SC Commission on Higher Education Need-based Grants: As soon as
possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
South DakotaCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
TennesseeState Grant: Prior-year recipients receive award if eligible and apply by
February 1, 2019. All other awards made to neediest applicants. Awards are
made until funds are depleted.
Tennessee Promise: Feb. 1, 2019 (date received)
State Lottery:
  • Fall term: Sept. 1, 2019 (date received)
  • Spring and summer terms: Feb. 1, 2020 (date received)
TexasAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018.
Texas public colleges: For priority consideration, submit your application by
Jan. 15, 2019. Additional forms may be required.
Texas private colleges: Check with your financial aid administrator.
Additional forms may be required.
US Virgin IslandsCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
UtahCheck with your financial aid administrator. Awards are made until funds
are depleted. Additional forms may be required.
VermontAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are
depleted. Additional forms may be required.
VirginiaCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.
WashingtonAs soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2018. Awards are made until funds are
depleted.
West VirginiaPROMISE Scholarship: March 1, 2019. New applicants must submit
additional forms at cfwv.com. Contact your financial aid administrator or
your state agency.
WV Higher Education Grant Program: April 15, 2019
WisconsinCheck with your financial aid administrator
WyomingCheck with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be
required.

Step 2. Get your documents together.

The documents you’ll need compete your FAFSA depend on your citizenship and financial independence. Here’s what to have on hand when applying for federal aid for the 2019–2020 academic year.

Step 3. Create an FSA ID.

You know how much time you’ve have to submit your forms, and you’ve gathered the necessary documents. Now, you’re ready to start your application.

Well, almost: You need to create a FSA ID before you can tackle the FAFSA questions.

Step 4. Start your application.

Once you’re ready to start answering the FAFSA questions, go back to the Federal Student Aid website to finally get started on your application. You’ll need the student’s FAS ID for this step.

Step 5. Complete your demographic information.

The first FAFSA questions are about your name, date of birth and other basic identifying information. If you’ve already submitted a FAFSA, it automatically completes this section.

Step 6. Select your schools.

First-timers should select every school you’re considering attending — even if you haven’t gotten an acceptance letter or completed an application. This way, you’ll have your application in on time wherever you end up going. Other schools will simply ignore your FAFSA if you end up not attending.

Step 7. Answer questions about your dependency status.

If you’re independent, you can skip ahead to Step 9. Otherwise, move on to Step 8.

Step 8. Answer questions on parent demographics.

A parent or somebody who’s legally in charge of you must fill out this section — for example, your biological parents, stepparents or adoptive parents. If your parent passed away but your stepparent is alive, your stepparent is not considered your legal parent unless they’ve adopted you. Same goes for foster parents, legal guardians, older siblings, grandparents and other extended family.

Step 9. Fill out information on your finances.

You and your parents need to upload information on your personal finances. But it’s not as complicated as you might think: FSA uses the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that allows you to upload tax forms without having to get them yourself ahead of time. You’re eligible to use this tool if you’ve already submitted your taxes for the year (which is likely, given the new application dates).

Step 10. Sign and submit your FAFSA.

You’re done answering the questions on the FAFSA. Now it’s time to electronically sign it, along with any supporting documents by logging in with your FSA ID. If you’re a dependent, your parents will also need to sign your FAFSA form by logging in with their individual FSA ID.

What happens after I submit my FAFSA?

What happens after your FAFSA depends on the type of federal aid you’re applying for. After you submit your application, FAFSA shares your information with the schools you listed on the application, your state’s higher education agency and higher education agencies in the states of schools that you applied for.

5 tips for saving time on the FAFSA

  1. Create your FSA ID ahead of time. It only takes about 15 minutes on your end and you can do it at any time. But it can take three days for the Social Security administration to verify your identity, which pushes your application back three days.
  2. Have your documents ready. Review our list of documents and have them at arm’s reach when you fill out the FAFSA so you don’t have to spend time trying to find your Social Security card.
  3. Get help if you need it. Some free organizations like College Goal Sunday can help you fill out the FAFSA for free if you’re confused or otherwise stuck.
  4. Let the IRS fill out the tax information. Using the IRS data retrieval tool can help you prevent mistakes on the FAFSA and also saves time on filling out the form.
  5. Review your answers. Mistakes can delay the process or get your form selected for verification — which takes extra time. Double-check to make sure everything is spelled correctly before you move on.

Background information about the FAFSA

The FAFSA is a financial aid application that all students must submit to qualify for federal aid. This aid includes grants, student loans, work-study programs and any other help that comes from the government. Colleges typically use your FAFSA to calculate your financial aid package for the year.

Even if you don’t think you qualify for federal financial aid, you might want to complete your FAFSA anyhow. You could be eligible for something you didn’t expect, potentially lowering the cost of your education. For instance, nearly 60% of applicants who applied for federal aid in 2015–2016 qualified for a Pell Grant — a federal grant given to students based on financial need.

FAFSA questions list

Number Question
Question 1 Your last name
Question 2 Your first name
Question 3 Your middle initial
Question 4 Your permanent mailing address
Question 5 Your city
Question 6 Your state
Question 7 Your ZIP code
Question 8 Your Social Security Number
Question 9 Your date of birth
Question 10 Your telephone number
Question 11 Your driver’s license number
Question 12 Your driver’s license state
Question 13 Your e-mail adress
Question 14 Are you a U.S. citizen
Question 15 Your Alien registration number
Question 16 What is your marital status?
Question 17 Month and year you were married, separated, divorced, or widowed
Question 18 What is your state of legal residence?
Question 19 Did you become a legal resident of your state before January 1, 2014?
Question 20 Month and year you became a legal resident
Question 21 Are you male or female?
Question 22 Do you want us to register you with the Selective Service System?
Question 23 Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an
offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (grants, work-study,
and/or loans)?
Question 24 and 25 Highest school your parent completed
Question 26 What will your high school completion status be when you begin college in the
2019–2020 school year?
Question 27 Student’s High School Name, City, and State
Question 28 Will you have your first bachelor’s degree before you begin the 2019–2020
school year?
Question 29 What will your college grade level be when you begin the 2019–2020 school
year?
Question 30 What degree or certificate will you be working on when you begin the 2019–
2020 school year?
Question 31 Are you interested in being considered for work- study?
Question 32 Have you completed a 2017 income tax return?
Question 33 What income tax return did you file or will you file for 2017?
Question 34 For 2017, what is or will be your tax filing status according to your tax
return?
Question 35 Were you eligible to file a 1040A or 1040EZ?
Question 36 What was your adjusted gross income for 2017?
Question 37 What was your income tax for 2017?
Question 38 How many exemptions did you claim?
Question 39 How much did you earn from working in 2017?
Question 40 How much did your spouse earn from working in 2017?
Question 41 What is the total current balance of your cash, savings, and checking
accounts?
Question 42 What is the net worth of your investments?
Question 43 What is the net worth of your current businesses and/or investment farms?
Question 44 a) What were your total education credits?
b) How much total child support did you pay?
c) What were your taxable earnings from need-based employment programs?
d) How much taxable college grant or scholarship aid did you report to the IRS
as income?
e) How much combat pay or special combat pay did you report in your AGI?
f) What were your earnings from work under a Cooperative Education
Program offered by a college?
Question 45 a) What were your total tax-deferred pension payments?
b) How much did you pay to your IRA or Keogh?
c) How much total child support did you receive?
d) What was your total tax-exempt interest income?
e) What were your total untaxed portions of IRA distributions? f) What were your total untaxed portions of pensions?
g) What were your total allowances received?
h) What were your total veterans noneducation benefits?
i) What was the total of your other untaxed income or benefits?j) What other money has been paid on your behalf?
Question 46 Were you born before January 1, 1996?
Question 47 Are you married?
Question 48 At the beginning of the 2019–2020 school year, will you be working on a
master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate
certificate, etc.?)
Question 49 Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for
purposes other than training?
Question 50 Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
Question 51 Do you now have or will you have children who will receive more than half
of their support from you between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020?
Question 52 Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with
you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June
30, 2020?
Question 53 At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased,
were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
Question 54 As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were
you an emancipated minor?
Question 55 Does someone other than your parent or stepparent have legal
guardianship of you, as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
Question 56 At any time on or after July 1, 2018, did your high school or school district
homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or
were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
Question 57 At any time on or after July 1, 2018, did the director of an emergency
shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was
homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
Question 58 At any time on or after July 1, 2018, did the director of a runaway or
homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an
unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being
homeless?
Question 59 As of today, what is the marital status of your parents?
Question 60 Month and year your parents were married, separated, divorced, or
widowed
Question 61 and 65 Parent’s Social Security Number
Question 62 and 66 Parent’s last name
Question 63 and 67 Parent’s first initial
Question 64 and 68 Parent’s date of birth
Question 69 Your parent’s e-mail address
Question 70 What is your parents’ state of legal residence?
Question 71 Did your parents become legal residents of their state before January 1,
2014?
Question 72 Month and year your parents became legal residents
Question 73 Your parents’ number of family members in 2019–2020 (household size)
Question 74 How many people in your parents’ household will be college students in
2019–2020?
Question 75 to 79 Parents Received Medicaid/Supplemental Security
Income/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Free or Reduced Price
School Lunch/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)/Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children?
Question 80 Have your parents completed a 2017 income tax return?
Question 81 What type of income tax return did your parents file or will they file for
2017?
Question 82 For 2017, what is or will be your parents’ tax filing status according to
their tax return?
Question 83 Were your parents eligible to file a 1040A or 1040EZ?
Question 84 Is either of your parents a dislocated worker?
Question 85 What was your parents’ adjusted gross income for 2017?
Question 86 What was your parents’ total income tax for 2017?
Question 87 How many exemptions did your parents claim?
Question 88 and 89 How much did your parent earn from working in 2017?
Question 90 What is the total current balance of your parents’ cash, savings, and
checking accounts?
Question 91 What is the net worth of your parents’ investments?
Question 92 What is the net worth of your parents’ current businesses and/or investment farms?
Question 93 a) What were your parents’ total education credits?
b) How much total child support did your parents pay?
c) What were your parents’ taxable earnings from need-based employment
programs?
d) How much taxable college grant or scholarship aid did your parents report to the IRS as Income?
e) How much combat pay or special combat pay did your parents report in their AGI?
f) What were your parents’ earnings from work under a Cooperative Education Program offered by a college?
Question 94 a) What were your parents’ total tax-deferred pension payments?
b) How much did your parents pay to their IRA or Keogh?
c) How much total child support did your parents receive?
d) What was your parents’ total tax-exempt interest income?
e) What were your parents’ total untaxed portions of IRA distributions?
f) What were your parents’ total untaxed portions of pensions?
g) What were your parents’ total allowances received?
h) What were your parents’ total veterans noneducation benefits?
i) What was the total of your parents’ other untaxed income or benefits?
Question 95 Your number of family members in 2019–2020 (household size
Question 96 How many people in your household will be in college in 2019–2020?
Question 97 to 101 Students Received Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI),
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Free or Reduced Price School
Lunch, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Question 102 Are you or your spouse a dislocated worker?
Question 103a, 103c, 103e, 103g Federal School Code
Question 103b, 103d, 103f, 103h Housing Plans
Question 104 Date this form was completed
Question 105 Student and Parent signature
Question 106 Preparer’s Social Security Number
Question 107 Preparer’s Employer Identification Number
Question 108 Preparer’s Signature and Date

Source: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/2019-20-completing-fafsa.pdf

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Bottom line

The FAFSA is not nearly as complicated as it was back in the day, when the process required snail mail. You can ensure a smooth application by readying your documents and having the information you need on hand to complete your form.

Because many states award aid first come, first served to students who qualify, submit your application as soon as you can.

Want to learn about how student loans work after you’ve filled out the FAFSA? Read our comprehensive guide to student loans to get the basics on federal and private lending, paying off your debt and refinancing for more favorable rates and terms.

Questions you might have about financial aid

Images sourced from https://ifap.ed.gov/

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