Financial Aid

When Do I Do the FAFSA®? And Other Financial Aid Questions

We answer common questions about applying for financial aid and completing the FAFSA, including who submits the FAFSA, when the FAFSA is due, when you can start completing the FAFSA, what tax year the FAFSA is based on, and how to report 529 accounts on the FAFSA.
Man learning when to complete the FAFSA

As you begin your financial aid applications, you may have questions about the process, or about how to complete certain sections of the application. We took some of our most recent inquires about applying for financial aid and answered them below. Read through to learn about the application timeline, divorced parents, reporting assets, and more.

For the FAFSA, who applies? Student or parent? And how do we link our applications?

You'll submit one FAFSA with both parent and student information, though you can log on and complete your sections separately. You'll both need to provide the student's full legal name and Social Security number so that the FAFSA can connect your data and pull it into one application.

I know the FAFSA becomes available on October 1st. But when is it due?

Each school will set its own financial aid deadline, but it's best to complete the FAFSA as soon after October 1st as possible. That's because some schools run out of financial aid, so even if a FAFSA is due to school by February 1st, and you meet that date, you could still receive less financial aid than a student who submitted the application months prior.

Can we start completing the FAFSA before October 1st?

Unfortunately, you do have to wait until October 1st of the student's senior year to start the FAFSA. Doing the FAFSA before that date means you've done the application for the wrong academic year, and your information won't work for your student's application process. Before October 1st you CAN register for your FSA ID, which is the username and password you'll need to sign the FAFSA. You can sign up for your FSA ID on the Federal Student Aid site here.

What tax year will the FAFSA be based on?

The FAFSA always asks for income information from two years prior. Determine the academic year that the student will start college, and two years prior to that year will be the income year of focus.

If parents are divorced, do both parents apply for financial aid?

The student will apply for financial aid and include on the FAFSA only the parent the student lived with the most over the previous 12 months. That parent is called the custodial parent. If the custodial parent is remarried, the current spouse's information will also need to be included. The noncustodial parent will not be listed on the FAFSA. If the student is required to submit the CSS Profile by a college, that application will also only include the custodial parent's information (including the current spouse if applicable). However the noncustodial parent will need to submit a separate CSS Profile with his or her information.

Do cars count as assets?

You should not include information about your cars on the financial aid applications unless that information is specifically asked for as a supplemental question on the CSS Profile. 

I have twins. Do I need to do the FAFSA twice? And pay for the CSS Profile twice?

Yes, you'll need to complete a FAFSA for both children. However, after you complete your first FAFSA, you will be given the opportunity to copy the parent information into the FAFSA for the second child, so that in your second FAFSA, you'll only need to enter your second child's information (and won't need to type in parent information again). You'll also need to do the CSS Profile twice. And yes, even if your twins are applying to the same school, you'll still need to pay to submit the CSS Profile for each twin to that school, as the student information will differ on the applications.

Does the savings reported on the FAFSA include equity in a home?

On the FAFSA, you should not report the equity in your primary home as an asset. Only report home equity as an asset for secondary homes, such as a vacation home or rental property. The CSS Profile, on the other hand, will ask you to report the equity in your primary home. It will do so in a stand-alone question.

Does credit card debt figure into the FAFSA calculation?

No, the FAFSA does not consider credit card debt or personal loans when calculating financial aid eligibility. It will only consider debt on a reported asset (for example the mortgage on a vacation home).

Can this process be done before a student officially applies to a college?

You can certainly submit the financial aid applications before the students submits an admissions application to the college. The college will match up the admissions application to the financial aid application(s) once it has received everything.

Does the student's savings account get looked at during the financial aid review?

Yes, the financial aid applications ask about student assets, and that includes a student's checking or savings account.

How do we report a 529 plan on the FAFSA?

All 529 plans should be reported as a parent asset, within the parent investment question. Parents should report the value of 529 plans for all of their children, not just the child applying to college.

My mom's boyfriend lives with us. Do I include him on the FAFSA?

You would only include your mom's partner on the FAFSA if your mom provides more than half of his financial support. If she does not, you can leave that person out of the number of household members.

Do you fill out the financial aid application every year?

You must submit the FAFSA every year. If the college requires the CSS Profile, check with the college to see if you need to submit that form every year or just once before the student's freshman year.

Watch the Understanding the FAFSA webinar