We Answer Your FAFSA Questions

Libby Miller Updated on January 8, 2019
At Nitro, we want to help you get through the FAFSA with as little pain as possible. Here, we've hunted down the answers to your latest and most-pressing FAFSA questions.

What do I do if I need help signing in?

Reader question: I’m having trouble signing into the Department of Education website with my child’s ID and password. What do I do?

When completing your portion of the FAFSA as a parent, it’s important that you create your own unique FSA ID with the Department of Education. FSA IDs serve as a legal signature for the FAFSA, and therefore your ID and username should be independent from your child’s.

Once you’ve created your own FSA ID and are completing your portion of the FAFSA, make sure to create a Save Key to share with your child. That way, you can link their part of the application with yours.

If you already:

  • have an FSA ID but do not remember your username, click Forgot Username.
  • have an FSA ID but do not remember your password, click Forgot Password.
  • Note: The password must be between 8 to 30 characters long. You can use any combination of numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and / or special characters.

Do I need to have this year’s tax return?

Reader question: I haven’t filed my taxes yet this year and I read that my child won’t receive aid unless I have. Is it okay to use last year’s tax return?

Absolutely. In fact, in recent years the Department of Education has changed their position on which tax return is required for the FAFSA.

When completing the FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year, students (and their parents, if the student is considered dependent) will submit information from their 2017 returns instead of the 208 return, as in years past.

For online applications, the Department of Education uses a tool called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) which allows students and parents who filed a U.S tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to access the tax return information needed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and transfer the data directly into their FAFSA.

Here's a handy chart from the Department of Education for more info:

When a Student Is Attending
College (School Year)
When a Student Can
Submit a FAFSA

Which Year's Income Tax
Information Is Required

July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018 October 1, 2016 - June 30, 2018 2015
July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019 October 1, 2017 - June 30, 2019 2016
July 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020 October 1, 2018 - June 30, 2020 2017
July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021 October 1, 2019 - June 30, 2021 2018

Do I have to submit income information for both parents?

If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The custodial parent for federal student aid purposes is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. (The twelve month period is the twelve month period ending on the FAFSA application date, not the previous calendar year.) Note that this is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, the parent who provided you with the most financial support during the past twelve months should fill out the FAFSA. This is probably the parent who claimed you as a dependent on their tax return. If you have not received any support from either parent during the past 12 months, use the most recent calendar year for which you received some support from a parent.

Reader question: Do I have to include my child’s father’s income if we are no longer married? My child lives with me and I claim her as a dependent on my taxes.

Since you are not married and do not live with the child’s father, you alone are considered the custodial parent and therefore you do not have to include his income.

Keep in mind that you will need to include any child support you receive and/or the income of a spouse if you have since remarried.

Do independent students need to include their parents’ income?

Reader question: My daughter is starting pharmacy school and as a graduate student is considered independent. Do I still have to include my income information on her FAFSA?

No. Graduate students, like all other independent students, are not required to report their parents’ income on their FAFSA. 

How do I handle large assets?

Reader question: When does a large asset like a second home have to be included on the FAFSA? What if it doesn’t have a mortgage and is not earning a rental income?

Any real estate owned by a parent (or the student) that is not used as a primary residence is considered an investment by the Department of Education.

The only exceptions would be if the home was owned by a non-custodial parent or if the debt owed on the real estate exceeded its current value. 

Should I include stock dividends?

Reader question: Should I include shareholders distributions (Line 17 on Form 1040) on the FAFSA?

Yes. Shareholder distributions should be included on the income portion of the FAFSA.

If you are completing the form online, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to pull your income information directly from your previously filed tax return and have it automatically filled in on your application. 

What if I don’t have a permanent address?

Reader question: I will be traveling a lot next fall and winter after my child leaves for school. Is it OK to use a P.O. Box or my employer's address for a permanent address?

For the purposes of filling out the FAFSA, you should use the address at which you currently reside.

If you do not currently have a permanent address, you may use another address, such as a P.O. Box, where you can receive correspondence.

Make sure to include your email address so that communications about your financial aid application can be sent to you electronically. 

Should parents file as married or divorced if they have remarried?

Reader question: I’m not sure whether to list married or divorced on the FAFSA. I put divorced,  but when I included my new husband’s income, it questioned whether I had made a mistake. What should I do?

You should select the "married/remarried" option for yourself.

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

What should I do if the income on last year’s tax return exceeds our expected income this year?

Reader question: My husband earned an additional $15,000 in overtime in 2016 and 2017, putting us into a different income bracket. However, we are not going to be getting that additional income again this year. Is there a way to discuss this with someone?

You must report your family’s full income from last year’s tax return on the FAFSA, even if your income will be different going forward.

However, if you feel that this additional income will unfairly reduce your aid package, make sure to contact the school’s financial aid office after receiving your aid award letter to explain your extenuating circumstances.

If your financial aid office has an appeal process, you may be able to provide proof of this temporary income change, which may yield additional aid consideration

Should I include my retirement account when I report my investments?

Reader question: On question 42 of the FAFSA, should I report investments such as IRAs that are meant for retirement, or just 529 college savings plans?

It depends on the investment.

Your retirement account as well as your primary home, vehicle, checking account, and life insurance policy do not need to be reported. Therefore you should not include your IRA balance on this question.

All other investment assets should be reported, including 529 plans, investment properties, trust funds, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and commodities should be included when answering question 42. 

What if I don’t have a driver’s license?

Reader question: I don’t have a driver’s license. Should I put my state ID number or leave the form blank? 

The field for driver’s license on the FAFSA is optional, so it’s up to you. You can choose to enter your state ID number or you can simply leave the field blank. The choice is yours.

If you do submit your state ID number, the Department of Education will use it to further verify your identity for security purposes.  

Didn't find what need here? Check out what other readers have asked, or email us at mike@nitrocollege.com. 

Published in: FAFSA

About the Author
Libby Miller

Libby Miller is a freelance copywriter. With experience working in both financial aid and the student loan industry, Libby loves helping students and their families get the best bang for their buck on a college degree. Read more by Libby Miller

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