FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions

Before You Begin the FAFSA: FAQs

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Filing the FAFSA is the first step in applying for financial aid and is a requirement for college students who plan to pay for college with the help of federal, state or institutional aid such as grants, scholarships, work study and loans. You can complete the 2018-2019 FAFSA anytime on or after October 1, 2017. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free – be sure to apply at FAFSA.gov.

What is the deadline for filling out the FAFSA?

Check with all colleges you are applying to determine their deadlines. Deadlines to apply for certain types of federal and institutional financial aid vary by college, and many colleges have early deadlines.

To be considered for a State of Maine Grant, the FAFSA must be filed by May 1, 2018.

Regardless of deadlines, it is best to file the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1. The earlier you apply, the more financial aid you may be eligible to receive.

What is an FSA ID?

The FSA ID is a Federal Student Aid username and password that you will need to access Federal Student Aid websites including FAFSA.gov. Your FSA ID will also allow you to sign the FAFSA electronically. If parent information is required on your FAFSA, one parent will also need to create his or her own FSA ID to electronically sign your FAFSA.  An FSA ID can be created at fsaid.ed.gov.

When should I create my FSA ID?

We recommend that you (and one parent if parent information is required on your FAFSA) create an FSA ID prior to completing the FAFSA.  Creating your FSA ID ahead of time will make FAFSA completion quicker and easier!  You can create an FSA ID now at fsaid.ed.gov.

Keep track of your FSA ID information using FAME’s FSA ID Information Tracking Sheet.

I haven’t been accepted at any colleges. Do I need to file my FAFSA yet?

Do not wait for an acceptance letter to apply for financial aid. Financial aid forms can be completed during the same time period. Filing your financial aid as early as possible is the best way to maximize your financial aid eligibility.

Will I need to fill out the FAFSA again next year?

Yes. Because eligibility for federal student aid does not carry over from one award year to the next, you need to fill out the FAFSA each year you are a student.

Your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of family members enrolled in college.

Where do I find more information about financial aid?

On FAME’s website! Learn about financial aid basics, comparing award letters from different schools, borrowing to pay for college and more. Use FAME’s Scholarship Search to find scholarships for Maine students. FAME’s booklet PAY: Tips to Afford Higher Education is also available for download.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA: FAQs

Who is considered a parent on the FAFSA?

If your biological or adoptive parents live together, regardless of marital status or gender, answer the questions about both of them.

If your biological or adoptive parents are divorced or separated, answer the questions about the parent you lived with most during the 12 months prior to filing the FAFSA (it does not matter who claimed you on their tax return). If you have lived with both parents exactly equally, answer the questions about the parent who has provided you the most financial support during the 12 months prior to filing the FAFSA. If your parent is remarried as of the date you file the FAFSA, answer the questions about your parent and your stepparent.

If one of your parents is deceased, answer the questions about the surviving parent. If that parent is remarried as of the date you file the FAFSA, answer questions about your parent and your stepparent.

If you live with a foster parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or other relative, they are not considered a parent for purposes of filing the FAFSA unless that person has legally adopted you. Students in these situations should contact their high school counselors, college financial aid office or FAME to discuss their situation further and obtain guidance to help them complete their FAFSA.

For other information about parents on the FAFSA, ask your high school counselor, a college financial aid office or contact FAME.

How do I complete the FAFSA if I am home schooled – don’t students have to list their high school?

When a student selects “home schooled” as their high school completion status, the high school question is automatically skipped and not required on the FAFSA.

How do I access help if I have a question?

FAME customer service is available to answer your FAFSA filing questions Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can call FAME at 1-800-228-3734. You can also email a question to Education@FAMEmaine.com. Emails are answered during business hours.

Help is also available at fafsa.gov:

  • The help button at the top of each page will redirect you to a list of searchable questions, provide you with information on accessing a FAFSA specialist via live online chat, and provide FAFSA’s email address. If you prefer to speak with someone directly, FAFSA’s toll-free number is 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
  • The help button at the bottom of each page explains how to access help for the page you are on.

To access help and hints in the right-hand column while in the FAFSA:

  • For questions that have an answer box, place your cursor in the answer box.
  • For questions with radio buttons, place your cursor over one of the two options.
  • For questions that have a drop-down option, place your cursor on the drop-down box.

How do I move through the FAFSA?

Use the “previous” and “next” buttons on the bottom of your FAFSA. DO NOT use your browser’s back and forward arrows at the top left of your screen.

Use your “tab” key to move from one question to the next, or use your mouse to left-click into an answer field. DO NOT use your “enter” key.

What is the difference between my FSA ID and my Save Key?

Your FSA ID allows you access to Federal Student Aid (FSA) websites, including FAFSA.gov. Your FSA ID also allows you to electronically sign and submit your FAFSA.  You will continue to use your FSA ID in the future.

Your Save Key (a combination of 4-8 characters that you create) is a temporary feature that allows you to go back to work on a saved FAFSA that you have not yet submitted.

Can I save what I have and come back later?

Yes. Use your Save Key to get back into your saved FAFSA.

What is the best way to provide my income and my tax information?

If possible, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) within the FAFSA to transfer 2016 income and tax information from the IRS into the FAFSA. Having your 2016 federal tax return(s) in front of you will make it easier to use the IRS DRT. When using the IRS DRT, income and tax information will not be displayed. Instead, selected fields will update to say, “Transferred from the IRS.” The schools you list on your FAFSA will be able to see the transferred tax and income information, which will reflect the information on your tax return(s). Using the IRS DRT is best as it updates the FAFSA  and verifies that the information is from the IRS all in one step.

What do I list for income information if I don’t file taxes?

If you work, but do not file taxes, use your W-2 form(s) to list income earned from work (salary, tips and wages).

What if I have untaxed income?

The FAFSA includes a section for you to report your untaxed income. Do not include student aid, welfare payments (TANF), Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Workforce Investment Act educational benefits, earned income, additional child tax credits, military housing or military housing allowance, combat pay, flexible spending arrangement benefits, foreign income exclusion or credit for federal tax on special fuels.

For the “number in school” question, should I include my siblings if they are in school but do not live at home?

Yes, include siblings who are counted in the FAFSA “household” question and who are enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program. DO NOT include your parents, even if they are enrolled in school.

What are considered assets and what are not?

Assets that must be reported include your current total balance of cash, savings and checking accounts, college investing accounts, net worth of investments, real estate such as rental property, land and summer homes.

Assets that are NOT reported include the value of your retirement accounts, the home you live in, your family farm or family business (if there are fewer than 100 full-time employees), personal possessions, pensions and whole life insurance.

Where can I get help in completing my FAFSA?

FAME can help! Our online help will lead you through the FAFSA filing process. We are also available by phone at 1-800-228-3734 or email at Education@FAMEmaine.com. Starting again in October 2017, we will offer In-Person Help Sessions with financial aid experts.

After You Complete the FAFSA: FAQs

I've been selected for verification. Did I do something wrong?

Verification is when the school asks you to verify some of the information you provided on your FAFSA by providing additional documentation and/or by completing a verification form. It DOES NOT mean you did anything wrong! Be sure to provide the requested information to the school as soon as possible.

When will I receive my financial aid award?

Typically, you won’t receive a financial aid award until you have completed the financial aid application process and have been admitted to the school. Schools have different schedules for when they send financial aid awards.

What is the best way to understand and compare my awards?

There is no standard format to award letters, making it difficult to compare awards from different schools. We recommend using FAME’s Comparing Costs & Financial Aid Awards Worksheet to help you understand your award and get an “apples to apples” comparison.

What else can I do to find money for college?

Check out FAME’s Scholarship Search page to research scholarships that might be available to you.

What can I do if my financial aid award isn't enough?

Colleges aren’t always able to meet the full financial need of every student. Start by reviewing your expenses to see if there are ways to reduce your costs. If your financial aid award is still not enough, consider these options.