Financial Aid

Ask a MEFA Expert

Between deadlines for college financial aid applications and tax returns, families juggle a lot of numbers and forms this time of year.  That's why the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) allows families to estimate their 2012 income when they submit the FAFSA, and come back later to update the information after they file their tax returns.

Families are often advised to use their 2011 tax returns to help them estimate their 2012 income on the FAFSA. But what happens if your income drastically changes between 2011 and 2012?  Ask A MEFA Expert recently addressed this question:

My husband lost his job in July. So, our income for 2012 is drastically different from what we show on our 2011 tax return.  My understanding is we use our 2011 taxes to fill out the FAFSA form, and waiting until our 2012 taxes are done is a bad move. What do you recommend?

You do want to make sure to complete the FAFSA by the financial aid deadline.  As most families will not have 2012 tax returns completed by most deadlines, it is often recommended that families use 2011 tax returns, as you have heard.  This is suggested because parent income often remains constant from year to year.  In your case, your income has dropped.  You should therefore do your best to estimate your actual 2012 income, and include that information on the FAFSA, instead of referring to the income figures from your 2011 tax return.  Colleges know the numbers won't be exact, but use your last pay stubs from 2012 to determine income figures as close to accurate as possible.