Annie Byrnes Updated on February 12, 2018

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. 

Psst ... you can also check out our Step-By-Step Guide To Completing The 2018-2019 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.

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 2018-2019 school year, students (and their parents, if the student is considered dependent) will submit information from their 2016 returns instead of the 2017 return, as in years past.

For online applications the Department of Education uses a tool that retrieves your previous year's tax return from an online IRS database and automatically fills in your FAFSA with the appropriate financial information.

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

Do I have to submit income information for both parents?


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. 

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