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 students who plan to pay for education after high school with the help of federal, state or institutional aid such as grants, scholarships, work study and loans. You can complete the 2021-2022 FAFSA anytime on or after October 1, 2020. 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 schools you are applying to so you can determine their deadlines. Deadlines to apply for certain types of federal and institutional financial aid vary by school, and many have early deadlines.

To be considered for a Maine State Grant, the FAFSA must be filed by May 1, 2021.

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.  To create an FSA ID, go to StudentAid.gov and click on “Create Account.” Be sure that you (and your parents, if applicable) have access to your email and/or can receive a text on your mobile phone when creating your FSA ID. In order to create an FSA ID, you must be able to verify that you have access to either your email or mobile phone.

When should I create my FSA ID?

We strongly 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 FAFSA as early as possible is the best way to maximize your financial aid.

Does the Equifax breach impact my ability to file the FAFSA and receive Federal Student Aid?

As long parents and students have not had their personally identifiable information compromised, the ability to file a FAFSA and receive Federal Student Aid should not be impacted by the Equifax breach.

If my parents or I have placed a credit freeze on our credit reports, will it impact my ability to file a FAFSA or receive Federal Student Aid?

Placing a credit freeze on your credit report will have no impact on completing the FAFSA or receiving federal grants, Federal Work Study or Federal Direct Loans (as these loans are not credit-based loans). However, Federal Grad PLUS and Federal Parent PLUS loans are credit-based and will be impacted by a credit freeze.

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 4:30 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 is also located next to each question and provides more information as to how to answer that question.

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 tax information?

If possible, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) within the FAFSA to transfer 2018 income and tax information from the IRS into the FAFSA. Having your 2018 federal tax return(s) and all applicable schedules 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. However, there are a few items that do not transfer when using the IRS DRT, so be sure to have your 2018 federal tax return(s) and applicable schedules in front of you.

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 2020, we will offer Virtual FAFSA Help Sessions. For a list of sessions, visit FAMEmaine.com/FAFSA.

What year of income information is required on the 2021-2022 FAFSA?

The 2021-2022 FAFSA requires income information from the 2019 tax year.

My family's income is currently less than it was in 2019. Do I still provide 2019 income information?

Yes, even though the current income is less, you will still provide 2019 income information on the FAFSA. But, after you file your FAFSA, you will still want to follow up with the financial aid office at any school you are applying to attend to let them know about the change in income and discuss a financial aid appeal.

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 offer?

Typically, you won’t receive a financial aid offer 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 offers.

What is the best way to understand and compare my financial aid offers?

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

What else can I do to find money for school?

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

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

Schools 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 offer is still not enough, consider these options.