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 will log on with your FSA ID and complete your sections separately.

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

Though the FAFSA is typically available on October 1st of each year, it will not be available until December 2023 for families completing the 2024-25 application. Each school sets its own financial aid deadline, but it's best to complete the FAFSA as soon after it becomes available 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 December 2023?

Unfortunately, you do have to wait until December 2023 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 December 2023 you CAN and SHOULD 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 who provided more financial support in the previous 12 months. If that parent is remarried, the current spouse's information will also need to be included. The other parent will not be listed on the FAFSA at all. If the student is required to submit the CSS Profile® by a college, that application will also only include the information for the parent that provided more financial support in the previous 12 months (the same as the FAFSA), and the current spouse, if there is one. However the other parent may need to submit a separate CSS Profile with his or her information based on the requirements of the college.

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?

529 plans should be reported as a parent asset, within the parent investment question. Parents should report the value of 529 plans for only the student applicant, not all of their children.

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