Answers to Your Toughest FAFSA Questions

Jon O'Donnell Updated on September 18, 2020

We know that filling out the FAFSA can be frustrating, which is we created our step-by-step guide for filling out the form.

However, even with specialized guidance, individual circumstances may make some of the FAFSA questions difficult to answer. That’s why we recently gathered your most complicated FAFSA questions and posed them to college financial aid pros to get the info you need.

Here’s what we found out.  

How does retirement affect FAFSA income reporting?

Reader question: My husband retired this year, causing our income to drop significantly. When filling out the FAFSA, should we use last year’s tax info, or should we use the income we will be claiming on our 2018 taxes?

If you're filling out the FAFSA in the fall, you'll need to use your tax info for 2017. However, if your income has changed substantially during 2018, you can call the school that your child plans to attend and let them know about your decrease in earnings. Schools are sometimes able to adjust the data you supplied on your FAFSA if special circumstances apply, such as a job loss.

You will probably be asked to submit additional documents for verification.  In any case, don't wait until January to apply for FAFSA, or you could miss out on important financial aid deadlines. 

How do I correct a mistake on my child's FAFSA?

Reader questionI was ready to submit the FAFSA and noticed that the filing status for my child is listed as married-filing joint return. She is NOT married and didn't file any type of tax return. FAFSA will not allow me to change this. How can I make a correction?

You should be able to make changes to any field in your FAFSA application (except your Social Security number), either before or after you have clicked Submit.

To make changes, click the Login button on the FAFSA home page and then click Make FAFSA Corrections. Your correction should be processed in three to five days.

How do I note student income if he/she did not file taxes?

Reader question: My student received a 1098T in 2018 and there is $3500 difference between box 5 and box 2. I assume the difference would be considered income for the IRS and included on a 1040A line 7. However, he was not required to file taxes. The question is, where do we put this amount on the FAFSA? I would guess in the question #39, but that seems to be income from working. We don't want to mess up and lose out on financial aid money.

Your student is not required to report this amount on the FAFSA since he was not required to file a 2018 tax return.

Do I need to include 529 accounts for my other children? What about other investments?

Reader questionI would like to know what’s included for the net worth investments. We have a 17 year-old who is going to college next year and a 14-year old and we have some money saved in 529 accounts for each of them. Do we report a total of two accounts of 529 on the FAFSA, or only the portion that is dedicated for the 17 year-old? I am assuming any stocks are added to this line as well? What else should be added to this line? I read that we do not add our 401K, the house we currently live in, cars, etc.

You will need to report the total combined dollar amount contained in both 529 plans for both of your children.   

You are correct that stocks and other investments should be added to this line as well, including:

  • the net worth of investment properties (which can be found by subtracting the debt owed on the property from the value of the property)
  • trust funds
  • UGMA and UTMA accounts
  • money market funds
  • mutual funds
  • certificates of deposit
  • stocks
  • stock options
  • bonds
  • other securities
  • installment and land sale contracts (including mortgages held), and
  • commodities.

Do NOT include your current home, car, or 401(k).

If I remarried, do I need to include my spouse's income?

Reader questionIf I remarried and filed joint taxes for the past couple of years, do I need to include all income (for me and my spouse) even though my spouse’s income does not support my dependent?

Yes. If you are divorced, the FAFSA is completed using the custodial parent's income. If you have remarried and you are the custodial parent, your spouse's income and assets must be included when reporting financial information.

Should I include a non-custodial parent on FAFSA?

Reader questionI have three kids going to college. I never married their father and we have both since married other people. How do I fill out the part where it says marital status of “parents?” Is that including their father?

As the custodial parent, you do not need to list the children's father on the application. You should select the "married/remarried" option for yourself.

However, since you are remarried, you will need to include your current husband's income and assets when reporting your financial information. 

Do I have to list fellowships from 2018 as income?

Reader questionIn 2018, I received a fellowship for my graduate studies. I am now filling out FAFSA for academic year 2020-2021 for a different graduate program. I am confused about whether I should list the amount from line 7 of my 2018 1040 form under taxable scholarship income. I did report scholarship income to the IRS in 2018, but it seems irrelevant for my financial status for the 2020-2021 academic year since I received no scholarship in 2018 and will not receive any scholarship in 2020-2021.

Should I input $0 for FAFSA question #43 or should I input the amount from the 2018 1040 line 7?

If the taxable income from the 2018 fellowship appears on Line 7 of your 2018 1040, you must report that number, since the FAFSA is asking for information from that year.

Have more questions about FAFSA?

Check out our trove of resources on how to apply, when to apply, and what kind of aid you may be eligible for through FAFSA.

Published in: FAFSA

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon is a writer and marketer for Nitro who is passionate about bringing transparency to the student loan process along with providing families with the information needed to make smart financial decisions. He also just recently refinanced his student loans allowing him to pay them off 5 years faster all while saving an additional $152/month. As he continues to pay them off himself, he strives to help others do the same. Jon also has a long history of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and their overall personal finances. In his free time you can find him reading travel blogs and researching destinations around the world in search of his next adventure. Read more by Jon O'Donnell

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