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Filling Out The FAFSA Form

financial advisor robert stoll cfp cfa chief investment officer draft commentary Profile AboutFilling Out The FAFSA Form

[Length: 10 Minute Read]

In the previous getting started FAFSA resource, I walked you through the key reasons why you want to fill out the FAFSA form each year for your college student(s), and how getting an FSA ID was a key first step to fill out the FAFSA itself. If you’re planning on filling out the FAFSA and haven’t gotten your FSA ID yet, make sure you visit the getting started FAFSA resource to see how to do that!

In this week’s post, I want to walk through the FAFSA form application so you can see what to expect as you begin the application process with your student. Since every family’s situation is different, I’m not going to dive into every single question you may have. The FAFSA site has a nice instruction guide that you can reference as you go through the FAFSA application.

Quick Note On The CSS Profile

In getting ready for college you may come across another form called the CSS Profile. CSS stands for “College Scholarship Service.” I’m not going to go through the process of filling out a CSS Profile here, but want you to be aware of it.

The CSS Profile is basically a more in-depth version of the FAFSA form that digs further into your financial situation. If your student wants to apply to a school that requires a CSS Profile, they will have to fill out both a FAFSA form AND a CSS Profile.

What schools require a CSS Profile? If your child plans on applying to any of the schools on this list, then they will also have to fill out a CSS Profile. Check with each school to see what their specific rules are.

Helpful Links

Note: We’ll be updating this page as the 2020-2021 FAFSA season gets underway on October 1, 2019 and the government releases updates to its instruction manuals and other information. Please check back frequently for updated screenshots.


Getting Started With The 2020-2021 FAFSA

The 2020-2021 FAFSA season begins on October 1, 2019. I suggest getting this done as soon as possible (i.e. in October) so your student can focus on filling out college applications.

Here is a general list of what you will need when you fill out the FAFSA. Given it can take upwards of one hour to complete the form, I suggest gathering all this data before you start the FAFSA process.

  • Student’s Social Security Number
  • Student & Parent’s 2018 Federal Tax Returns (see below…can electronically import as well)
  • Bank statements for parents & students (checking, savings, and CD accounts)
  • Investment account statements for parents & students (mutual funds, stocks, and bonds)
  • Value of any real estate owned, other than your primary home
  • Value of UGMA & UTMA accounts
  • Value of 529 Savings accounts
  • FSA ID of parent & student (see here for how to get your FSA ID)
  • A list of the schools your student wants to apply to

Note what financial information is NOT needed:

  • Retirement accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401k, 403b, etc)
  • Cash value life insurance
  • Equity in your primary home

First Steps – Logging In And Dependency Status

Go to

Fafsa Form Financial Advisor Deer Park Barrington

This demonstration will take you through the process as if this is the first time you’re filling out FAFSA.Click “START HERE” under ‘NEW TO FAFSA.GOV’

Fafsa Form Financial Advisor Deer Park Barrington

This is the first big “what do I do?” moment.

In order to move forward from here, you need to determine your student’s dependency status. They are either considered Independent or Dependent.

If the student is deemed to be independent, then the student is the only one that can fill out the FAFSA – using their own FSA ID. Effectively, you as a parent are done and there’s nothing for you to do.

However, if the student is deemed dependent, then either the student or the parent can fill out the FAFSA but BOTH will have to sign it.

How do you know whether a student is dependent or independent? Check out this worksheet from the Federal Student Aid website to determine your student’s status. In most cases, your child will be deemed dependent if they’re still in high school and living with you, but check the website to make sure.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I will assume the student is a dependent of the parents.

So with that in mind…

If you’re the parent, go ahead and click “I am a parent, preparer, or student from a Freely Associated State” to get started.

You will have to:

  1. Enter the parent FSA ID you created (your email address and password)
  2. Create a Save Key, which is essentially a PIN or password that you create so you can save FAFSA and come back to it later if you have to make changes.

Next Step – Student Demographics

Fafsa Form Financial Advisor Deer Park Barrington

[Note: all personal information you see in this tutorial is from government-issued Demo accounts that were created for demonstration purposes only; no real person’s information is used]You will be taken through a series of screens where you will enter your child’s information.

  • First & Last Name
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of Birth
  • Mailing Address
  • Email Address
  • Telephone Number
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Marital Status of child
  • High School Diploma, GED status
  • Grade Level in college that the student is applying for (1st year, 2nd year, etc)
  • Highest Level of School completed by Parent(s)

Two things you should be aware of in this section…

First, you will be asked about your state residency. “Have you lived in [State] for at least 5 years?” If you answer No to that question, the site will ask you when you became a legal resident of whatever state you currently live in.

Second, you will be asked if the Student is a US Citizen or not, and if you select Yes, then you will be asked if the Student is registered with the Selective Service System. All male US citizens between the ages of 18-25 are required by law to register, so if your student hasn’t done so already the FAFSA site will ask you if you want to go ahead and register them. Please note that if you select “No” to registering for Selective Service then you are putting the student’s ability to receive financial aid in jeopardy.

Next Step – School Selection

Fafsa Form Financial Advisor Deer Park Barrington

At this point, the FAFSA site will automatically save your application for you.You will now have to enter the high school where your student is currently enrolled. The site has a search feature that helps you find it.

Next, you will enter up to 10 colleges the student is interested in attending. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Use the site’s search feature, which allows you to select the state the school is in. The site will populate choices for you to select.
  2. Enter the school’s Federal School Code directly.

Personally, I find it easier to just search for the school right on the site.

[Special Note: Generally, it does NOT matter what order you put the schools into the FAFSA site. However, there are a couple of states that offer state aid to attend a state school and they require you to list those schools in a certain order so that you can get state aid. If you live in CT, MA, MI, PA, SC, VT or WV, AND your student is looking at a state school in one of those states, make sure you check with your state’s rules regarding the order in which that school is supposed to appear on the FAFSA form.]

As you search for schools and select them, the FAFSA site is going to ask you what kind of housing the student would need while in school. Your choices are:

  • On Campus
  • With Parent
  • Off-Campus

You can see the screen here:


Fafsa Form Financial Advisor Deer Park Barrington

Next Step – Dependency Status

I recommend going back to that sheet I referenced earlier from FAFSA that helps you determine your student’s dependency status.

As you, the parent, answer these questions, remember that the FAFSA site is asking them from the perspective of the STUDENT. For example, the first question below is asking whether your son/daughter (who is the soon-to-be-student) has any children or is expecting to have children.

Fafsa Form Financial Advisor Deer Park Barrington

Next Step – Parent Demographics

After completing the Student’s Dependency Status, the FAFSA site will once again save your application and move you on to the Parent Demographics tab.

Since you, the parent, are filling this out it should be easy. You will be asked to provide the following:

  • Marital status, including date of Marriage or Divorce
  • Whether the Father or the Mother’s information will be provided (in the event the student’s parents are Unmarried or Divorced)
  • Parent’s Social Security Number
  • Parent’s First & Last Name
  • Parent’s Date of Birth
  • Parent’s Email Address
  • Parent’s Residency

Next Step – Parent Financial Information

Here is where things can get confusing for people. For the 2019-2020 FAFSA season, you will need 2017 tax returns! Let me repeat – you will need 2018 tax returns if you are filling out the FAFSA starting October 1, 2019, for the 2020-2021 school year.


Believe it or not, your Federal Government is able to populate your tax information for you automatically. All you have to do is hit the “Link to IRS” button and follow the instructions. It will automatically import all the information it needs about your income, but it will NOT display this information once imported. The site will assure you that the information has been imported.

QUICK TIP: When you get to the page you see below, make sure you check the box AND hit the Transfer button!

Note: Some of these screenshots refer to 2017 taxes. These will be updated as the FAFSA site is updated. But to be clear, you’re entering 2018 tax year information in this section

If you don’t use the “Link to IRS” tool, then you will have to input the information manually from the copy of your 2017 tax return. I’m not going to go through that as it’s pretty easy to figure out. (Hint: if you get stuck, click the blue question mark next to the field you’re not sure about and the site will explain what you need to do.)

After importing your IRS information, you will be taken to a screen to fill out the Parent’s Assets. This is where you want to pull out all those bank and brokerage statements that you gathered up before you started filling out the FAFSA.

Fill out all the information that’s asked for. You will have to add up the value of all your cash, savings and checking accounts.Two special notes for the second item (net worth of parents’ investments, including real estate)

  1. Do NOT include the value of your primary residence (i.e. the home you live in regularly)
  2. If you own real estate other than your primary residence, the Net Worth of that asset is calculated as follows: Value of Real Estate MINUS any Mortgages or Debts against that same property. Click the blue question mark for more information.

Next Step – Student Financial Information

Once you get done entering the Parent’s financial information, you will then be asked for the exact same information for the Student.

Next Step – Sign And Submit

You’re almost done!

You will be asked if you are the Preparer – you will almost certainly answer NO to this question. Then you’ll be asked to review all the information you submitted.

Finally, you will go ahead an electronically sign the FAFSA. You will receive a confirmation from the site that you are done.

Your LAST STEP is to have your student sign in to the FAFSA site using their FSA ID and Sign & Submit the FAFSA form themselves.

Finally – You’re Done!

You’ve just taken the first step towards sending your son or daughter off to college next year! Now your student can start filling out those college applications and writing essays.

Content Disclaimer: This information was created before the 2020-2021 FAFSA form was officially released.

Wondering how this affects your investments? Schedule a call with Financial Design Studio to discuss your portfolio today.

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