Since the FAFSA® and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® became available on October 1st, we’ve been fielding questions from parents, students, and counselors on different aspects of the financial aid applications. You can find a comprehensive review of financial aid within our webpage, Financial Aid Made Simple, but your family’s household situation or recent changes in income might raise questions about how to proceed in the process. We’ve compiled below some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received recently. Read them through in case any of these situations apply to your own family.

Q: I am self-employed, and my year-to-year income varies (sometimes greatly). Should I submit more recent income information to schools?

A: The FAFSA and PROFILE ask questions about your 2015 income, and that’s the income the financial aid offices will use to determine your eligibility for financial aid. If your 2016 (or projected 2017) income varies significantly from 2015 (often the case for business owners, or those who recently lost their job), it’s a good idea to let the financial aid offices know. They don’t have to, but may choose to use your more recent income when evaluating your family for financial aid. Submit a letter and relevant documentation (such as your 2016 tax return or most recent pay stub) to each financial aid office.

Q: Once I apply, can I delete a group of schools from my list on the FAFSA? My daughter is applying to more than 10 schools.

A: Yes, once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, wait until you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) via email, which indicates your FAFSA has been delivered to the schools on your list. You can then log back into the FAFSA, delete your schools, add others, and submit the FAFSA again to those additional schools.

Q: Do I report my retirement accounts on the financial aid applications?

A: The FAFSA specifically requests that you not report the value of any official retirement accounts on the application, though you do need to report any income you earned in 2015 that you deposited into a retirement account (such as a tax-deferred 401K through your employer). The PROFILE does ask that you report the value of all retirement accounts, though most schools only eyeball that figure, and don’t actually use it in the calculation to determine your financial aid eligibility.

Q: Can I fill out and submit the FAFSA if my student has not yet sent an application to the school?

A: Yes. You can send financial aid applications to any school at any time. Once the school receives your admissions application, they’ll search their pool of FAFSAs (and other financial aid applications) to find yours, and then proceed with the financial aid review.

Q: I am divorced, and my wife is the custodial parent. Where do we list the value of the 529 account I started for my son?

A: The non-custodial parent will not report any information (income, assets, etc.) on the FAFSA, as the FAFSA only asks for information from the custodial parent and the custodial parent’s current spouse. As the noncustodial parent, you may need to submit the Noncustodial PROFILE to schools that require the PROFILE. You’ll list all of your income and asset information (including the value of your 529 accounts) on that Noncustodial PROFILE. Also important to note: because the value of your 529 account does not appear on the FAFSA, any contributions you make from your 529 account to pay for your son’s college costs must be listed as student income in the year it was received. So if you pay for college expenses in 2017 from your 529 account, your son must list that amount as income on the 2019-20 FAFSA.

Q: Do both the student and parent need an FSA ID?

A: Yes, in order to sign the FAFSA, both the student and parent will need an FSA ID. You can learn more about the FSA ID in our recent blog here.

Q: What’s the deadline to use IDOC? Is it the same as the PROFILE?

Each school will let you know their IDOC deadline (check your PROFILE status page, or the school’s website). Many have an IDOC deadline that occurs after the PROFILE is due. Note that there’s a lag time of a few days from the time you submit your PROFILE to when IDOC will be available for your use. You can learn more about IDOC here.

If you have additional questions about the financial aid process, we would love to provide answers. Call us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or email us at info@mefa.org. We have financial aid experts ready to offer you guidance and answer your questions.