College is expensive. Even parents who have diligently saved for their children’s education need a bit of extra help. That’s where the FAFSA comes in. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is something your child needs to fill to qualify for federal financial aid. But what you may not realize is how important this form really is, and the vital role you, as a parent, play. These tips about the FAFSA for parents cover important things you need to know about this federal financial aid gateway.
Understand Your Child’s Dependent Status
The majority of students applying to college are dependent on their parents. Parents of dependent students play a key role in determining the student’s eligibility for financial aid.
What you should know is that dependency status for FAFSA purposes has its own unique criteria. This is quite different from the criteria used to define dependency in many other fields, such as on tax returns.
For FAFSA purposes, a student is considered a dependent if they meet these criteria:
- Younger than 24 years
- Completing a degree other than a master’s or doctorate
- Not an active-duty military member or veteran
If your student meets all of the above criteria, the FAFSA considers them as dependent students. All students who come under this category are required to submit their parents’ financial information on the FAFSA. If you do not provide this information for whatever reason, your child’s FAFSA will remain incomplete. This will cut your child off from qualifying for several forms of financial aid.
ALWAYS Complete the FAFSA Regardless of Your Income
Many parents who earn higher incomes don’t feel the need to file the FAFSA. This is because they are under the false notion that students from higher income families will not qualify for any financial aid. This is not necessarily true.
No matter how much you earn, it’s important that you complete the parent portion of the form correctly. Filing the FAFSA qualifies your child to benefit from different types of free and lower-cost aid. Only students who have filed the FAFSA can get access to certain types of aid such as Pell Grants and federal student loans.
The details provided on the FAFSA will also be used to assess your child for other forms of student aid. This includes need based aid and merit based aid. State governments, colleges, and even private organizations base their financial aid decisions on the information entered on the FAFSA.
You never know what aid your child may qualify for or what aid they may need to meet their college costs. This is what makes filing the FAFSA so important. It would be a shame to miss out on any type of financial aid simply because of not filing.
Get All Your Info Ready Before You Start Filling the FAFSA
Although filling in the FAFSA is relatively straightforward, it does ask for a whole lot of details. It can take a while, if you’re filing for the first time. Make sure you have all your details ready to streamline the process.
These are some of your information you will be required to fill in:
- Social Security number
- Tax return
- Untaxed income records (if it applies to you)
- Current bank statements
- All current investments (if applicable)
Keep in mind, that for the W-2, taxes, and income records you’ll use the information from two years ago. This is called prior-prior year filing. Essentially, it ensures you don’t have to wait on current forms to update in order to file the FAFSA.
Tip About the FAFSA for Parents: Glance through the copy of the FAFSA before you begin filling it out. Then make sure you have all the necessary documents ready before you get started. Most importantly, keep your income information and tax details ready.
Tips For Unmarried, Single, or Remarried Parents
Yes, these things do matter when it comes to the FAFSA. What they’re concerned about is the student’s parents’ financial information. And this information is highly dependent on the parents’ marital status.
If their parents are divorced, the student only needs to submit information about one parent. This should be the parent which whom they live 51% or more of the time.
If the divorced parents have 50-50 custody, the student the parent who provides more financial support is the one listed.
Things get slightly more complicated if the listed parent—the one who provides more financial support—is remarried. In this case, that parent will also have to report the stepparent’s income details on the FAFSA.
If you are separated or divorced, it may be worth discussing this issue with your ex spouse. Just making a small change to your child’s living arrangements (as in, one day) could help your child qualify for more financial aid.
FAFSA for Parents: How to File
Here’s a simplified step-by-step to filing a FAFSA as a parent:
1: Create Federal Student Aid (FSA) accounts for both you and your child. This will automatically generate a unique FSA ID.
2: Use your newly generated FSA ID to log into your FSA account start a new FAFSA.
3: Start by filling in your child’s details – general information, dependency status, schools that they are considering.
4: Fill in your details. Marital status, financial information, income as reported on your most recent tax return, and current assets. You will also have to declare if you receive any federal benefits such as Medicaid or any other.
5: Sign and submit the completed FAFSA. Make sure to review all the details before submitting. Accuracy is crucial, as any wrong information can affect your child’s eligibility for financial aid. It can also affect the amount of aid they qualify for.
Take time to understand your role in your child’s eligibility for financial aid so they can avail of financial aid. This is one of the most important tips about the FAFSA for parents.
Want more help? Check out our Question-by-Question FAFSA Guide!