Financial Aid

Quick Tips for Filing Your FAFSA

Ready to file or renew your FAFSA? Review these tips before you start.

Shawna Newman

September 21, 2023

Quick Tips for Filing Your FAFSA
When you are a current or prospective college student, being awarded and actually getting financial aid is a beautiful thing. Applying for financial aid, however, can be a completely different experience for both high school seniors and college students.
Every student wants "free money." Between financial aid and scholarships, there is plenty of it to go around. You just need to put in the effort and apply for it.
Filling out your FAFSA can be tricky at first glance. But, with FAFSA tips and tricks, those seemingly complicated financial aid forms can be simplified.

Complete the FAFSA with these Helpful Tips

Keep the following FAFSA tips in mind and you shouldn't have any problems filling out your financial aid or form.

Fill out the practice FAFSA.

The Office of the U.S. Department of Education provides a practice FAFSA form or FAFSA on the Web Worksheet each year. Fill this out before filing the form online to be sure you understand how long the process will take and that you have all the items you need.

Apply for the FAFSA every year.

You will need to apply for financial aid, yearly. After you have filled out your first FAFSA application, you will only need to renew it in the following years. The process should not take as long to complete as it did the first year you filed your FAFSA.

Apply early.

Financial aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Each state has a limited amount of FAFSA money to share with students. You can also use the apply-early approach to get more financial aid from your college, too.

Have all your information ready.

Here is what you should have with you before submitting the FAFSA.
  • Have your FSA ID handy. You will need this to electronically submit your FAFSA. If you do not have a FSA ID, you will need to create one before beginning your FAFSA. One parent is also required to have a FSA ID, too (unless you are filing the FAFSA as independent ).
  • Your Social Security Card and Driver’s License This serves as legal identification.
  • You and Your Parents’ Federal Income Tax Returns, W-2s Tip: The IRS Data Retrieval Tool automates the transfer of your most recent federal tax return to your FAFSA form. Many people find this makes the process much easier.
  • Other Records of Money Earned This includes non-taxable income such as Social Security income, veteran’s benefits, welfare benefits, child support received, etc.
  • Current Bank and Investment Account Statements This includes financial records of mutual funds, investment accounts, stocks, 529-Savings Accounts, business/investment farm accounts, etc.
  • Records of Unique Family Financial Circumstances You will need to prove any substantial financial changes that may have changed within the last year. This may include, large medical expenses, substantial dependent-care costs, salary reductions, the loss of a job, etc.
  • The College Codes of the Schools You are Considering Attending or Currently Attend Each college has its own code. You can find your school’s code on
  • Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

    Below are five common FAFSA mistakes you do not want to make!

    Not Applying

    • Skipping the FAFSA is not a good idea. Even if you do not think you will qualify for financial aid, you should submit the form to see what your options are!

    Not Applying Early

    • When it comes to the FAFSA the early bird gets the worm (aka: money to pay for college)! The earlier you submit your FAFSA, the better. Every state has a FAFSA priority deadline.

    Leaving Blank Fields

    • In the question that asks about your interest in distinct types of aid (work-study and student loans), answer "yes" to each question. Answering "yes" does not mean you must accept a loan or work-study position, nor does it guarantee you will be offered these types of financial aid, either. Answering "no" to these questions will not get you more grant aid.
    • Even if you qualify for the simplified needs test, you should still complete the asset information section of the FAFSA. Some states and schools use this information for computing their own financial aid awards.
    • By submitting the FAFSA, you give permission to release your information to the state aid agency. You cannot apply for financial aid without releasing this information.

    Listing Incorrect Information

    • Use your legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. Nicknames or aliases will cause a processing delay.
    • Read the questions carefully. The words "you" and "your" on the FAFSA always refer to the student, not the parents.
    • To be considered a veteran, you must have served on active duty and been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. If your service was only for training purposes (e.g. National Guard or Reserves, or ROTC), you are not considered a veteran for your federal financial aid application.
    • Remember to count yourself, the student, as one of the people in your household who will be a college student during the award year. • A legal dependent is a person for whom you provide and will continue to provide more than half of their support. Support includes money, gifts, loans, housing, food, clothing, automobile, medical and dental care, and payment of college costs. If you have a child who is supported by your parents or someone else, you should answer "no" to the question that asks about legal dependents other than a spouse.
    • If you have an unborn child who will be born before or during the award year (July 1 through June 30) and will be your legal dependent, that child should be counted as a member of the household.

    Entering the Wrong Tax or Income Information

    • If your parents are divorced or separated, the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months is the parent responsible for filling out the FAFSA. This is not necessarily the parent who has legal custody.
    • If the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA has remarried, the new spouse must report their income and assets on the FAFSA. Prenuptial agreements have no bearing on this requirement. • The Earned Income Credit is considered "untaxed income" on the FAFSA. Other types of untaxed income include retirement plan contributions made during the year and military food and housing allowances.
    • Taxable earnings from work-study jobs as well as any grant or scholarship monies that were reported on your income tax return are counted.
    • Prepaid tuition plans should be reported as assets on the FAFSA.

    Before Submitting Your FAFSA

    Prior to finishing your FAFSA, consider the following reminders:

    Sign the Form

    If you are filling electronically you will not “wet sign” the form. Instead, you will use your FSA ID as your electronic signature. If you do not sign the form, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), but you will not receive aid.

    Do Not Include Documents When Mailing

    If you are not filing your FAFSA electronically, do not include anything with the form when you mail it; any enclosures will be destroyed. Likewise, do not write comments or notes in the margins of the form. If there are unusual family financial circumstances, you should contact the school's financial aid administrator to ask for a professional judgment review.

    Keep a Copy

    Save your completed FAFSA or if you are mailing the form, make a copy of it before sending it in the mail. You can print out your online FAFSA before you submit the application.

    Get Help If You Need It

    If you do not understand a question or are having trouble filling out the form, you can always call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Below are other FAFSA articles and resources you may find helpful: • FAFSA: Financial Aid Resources & Common Questions
    FAFSA Checklist
    Why Parents Should Fill Out the FAFSA
    What’s the FAFSA? And Why You Should Care
    10 FAFSA Mistakes that Affect Financial Aid
    Become a Fastweb member to make paying for school easier! Don’t miss the scholarships YOU specially qualify for, important pre-college tasks and current college student must-dos. Make paying for school easier! Sign up in less than 2 minutes.

    You Might Also Like

    Shawna Newman

    Managing Editor, Contributing Writer

    Shawna Newman is the Managing Editor and a writer at Fastweb. She has over 10 years of experience in higher education. Her direct work with college admissions teams, financial aid officers, college deans, ...

    Fastweb makes finding scholarships a breeze.

    Become a member and gain exclusive access to our database of over 1.5 million scholarships.

    By clicking, I agree to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.