FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions
College-bound high school seniors and their families may have questions as they work on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA. Here are some of the questions most frequently asked on HESC’s FAFSA Hotline.
New York Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
Q: We make too much money to qualify for a Pell Grant. Should we still file a FAFSA?
YES! To qualify for federal Stafford loans, Parent PLUS loans and federal work-study, you will need to file a FAFSA. Many colleges require a FAFSA to qualify for institutional scholarships, grants or other aid they may have available. Institutional funds may not necessarily be based on need. Remember, you can’t qualify for financial aid if you don’t file.
Q: There is room to list four colleges on the paper FAFSA, but I’m applying to more. What should I do?
The online FAFSA has space for 10 colleges. If you want to include more, you can update the FAFSA using your PIN after you receive your Student Aid
Report (SAR). You will need to delete some of the original colleges before you can add new ones to receive your FAFSA information.
Q: I’m already attending college. Do I need to complete another FAFSA?
NOTE: If you make other corrections to your FAFSA later, the FAFSA processor will send the updated information to the 10 schools listed at the time the corrections are made. If you want the other colleges to receive your updated FAFSA, look for the Data Release Number (DRN) on the confirmation page and give that number to the financial aid office of the college that is not listed; they can get your updated information electronically.
Yes. You must complete a FAFSA every academic year you wish to receive financial aid. The process will be faster, since your FAFSA information will carry over to the next application year. If you receive New York State TAP, you must also re-apply each year you attend college.
Q: I went to FAFSA.com to complete the application, but they wanted me to pay. What gives?
The first word in FAFSA is “Free.” You don’t have to pay anyone to complete the paper or online for you and there are no secret formulas to get additional student aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA, is the key to student financial aid. Use the link from HESC.ny.gov
or go directly to www.FAFSA.ed.gov
Q: Do I have to register with Selective Service?
Young men age 18 through 25 are required to register with the U.S. Selective Service in order to receive federal student aid including Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Stafford Loans. If you haven’t registered, you can do it on the FAFSA. By answering “yes,” you give the U.S. Department of Education permission to submit your information to Selective Service. Get more information about U.S. Selective Service at their website, www.sss.gov
Q: What is FWS and should I indicate that I want it?
The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program provides part-time employment to students at their college who need the earnings to help meet their college costs. Indicating you want FWS on the FAFSA does obligate you to take it, if offered however, FWS funds are often limited, so if you’re not sure, say yes. Learn more about FWS at Student Aid on the Web
Q: My parents are separated/divorced – which parent’s financial information should I include?
Include the financial information from the parent with whom you lived with most during the past 12 months. If you live with both parents 50 percent of the time, the parent who provided the most financial support should complete the parent portion of the FAFSA.
Q: I am a step-parent. Do I need to provide my income information for my step-daughter, who lives with me and her father, on the FAFSA?
: Yes, since your step-daughter is part of your household, your income must be reported.
Q: I am getting divorced from child's stepfather; how do I complete the income and asset questions?
You will need to use the stepfather's information as of today, when completing the FAFSA, since you are still legally married. When your marital status legally changes, you should notify the financial aid office at the college.
Q: I am a high school student and a single mother living on my own. Should I seek independence so I can receive more aid or should I include my mother’s information?
Since you are a single parent, you are already considered independent.
Q: My mother is deceased and I do not know my father. I currently live with my grandmother. What is my dependency status?
If your grandmother is your legal guardian, you will file as an independent student. If your grandmother does not have documentation to meet the requirement of legal guardianship and you are unable to get financial information from your father, complete the student portion of the FAFSA and answer the question regarding special circumstances. Then, sign the FAFSA and submit it. Although your application will be incomplete, the colleges listed will still receive your data. You should contact the financial aid offices at your selected colleges for further instructions.
Q: I am living in foster care and completing the FAFSA. What status do I use?
As a youth-in-care, or a former youth-in-care, you may be eligible to be considered for independent student status. This status may apply to you if you are an orphan (both parents deceased), a ward of the court or in foster care on or after your 13th birthday, even if you have subsequently been adopted. This may also apply to youth in kinship guardianship. If you are considered independent, your custodial parents’ financial information is not required on the FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education’s publication Determining FAFSA Dependency
has a complete list of the criteria that determines dependency. On your FAFSA, be sure you check the "Ward/dependency of the state or courts" box so you can receive all of the aid for which you’re eligible. You may need to show proof of your Independent Status at the college financial aid office; if so, ask your caseworker for a letter stating your independent status on agency letterhead.
Have other dependency questions? Review the U.S. Department of Education’s publication Determining FAFSA Dependency
Q: I got married in December 2012. Do I have to say I’m married on the FAFSA and report my husband’s income, even though he did not contribute to my previous year’s income?
Yes; you must indicate your marital status as of the day you are completing the FAFSA and include his income.
Q: What determines “eligible noncitizen status?”
Generally, you are an eligible noncitizen
if you are one of the following:
- U.S. permanent resident, with a Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as an Alien Registration Receipt Card or "Green Card")
- Conditional permanent resident (I-551C)
- Other eligible noncitizen with an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the Department of Homeland Security showing any one of the following designations: "Refugee," "Asylum Granted," "Indefinite Parole," "Humanitarian Parole," or "Cuban-Haitian Entrant"
- A citizen of the Republic of Palau (PW), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (MH), or the Federated States of Micronesia (FM).
You can receive federal student aid if you are an eligible noncitizen. You must enter your eight or nine digit Alien Registration Number (ARN) on the FAFSA.
Q: Should we wait until our taxes are done before completing the FAFSA?
You should not wait. Submit the FAFSA with estimates so you can be packaged for financial aid by your selected colleges; aid is often awarded on a first-come-first served basis. You can make updates to the FAFSA after you’ve filed your 2011 taxes. In most cases, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (see next Q&A).
Q: How do I link my FAFSA to my federal tax return?
Follow the information on HESC.org's IRS Data Retrieval Tool page
Q: I can’t find my pension amount for question 92 on my federal tax return. Where can I find this information?
You’ll find your pension amount on your W-2 form, box 12.
Q: I am the custodian of a UTMA account (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) – how do I report this?
: UTMA and UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act) accounts are considered assets of the student on the FAFSA, regardless of the student’s dependency status. If you are a parent, do not include UTMA and UGMA accounts as a parent asset if you are the custodian, but not the owner; these are to be reported as student assets.
Q: Should a small family business value, or net worth, be reported on the FAFSA as an asset?
If the business has fewer than 100 employees and if the family owns and controls more than 50 percent of the business, it is not considered an asset.
Q: Does my 401K count as an investment?
No. Investments do not include the home you live in; cash, savings and checking accounts; the value of life insurance and retirement plans (401K plans, pension funds, annuities, non-education IRA’s Keogh plans, etc.).
Q: Do students’ assets have to be reported on the FAFSA?
Yes. The formula adds student contribution and parent contribution to determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Q: I don’t see any questions about assets on the online FAFSA. Why not?
: The online FAFSA uses skip-logic that will ask only the questions the student and family need to complete. You may be exempt from answering based on your previous answers. When you’ve completed entering your financial data, the online FAFSA will prompt you for any additional information that may be required.
Q: My family is dealing with large medical bills; will that affect my financial aid?
You should notify the college financial aid office of your circumstances and complete a college special circumstances form if available or, write a letter including supporting documentation with your request for special consideration.
Q: What is the difference between Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and disability income? My mother is on disability, but the FAFSA won't let me proceed without entering the AGI. I want to skip the question, since her only income was disability income. How should I proceed?
If there was no other income, enter "0" for the AGI. The disability income should be reported in the "Parents' 2011 other untaxed income."
Q: Can I complete the FAFSA and TAP application at the same time?
Yes! You can apply for TAP at the end of the FAFSA on the confirmation page. Look for this link, which will take you directly to the TAP-On-The-Web application:
Q: I missed the TAP link on the FAFSA confirmation page. How do I apply for TAP?
You’ll need to wait three days for processing then, use the HESC website to apply for TAP online at www.tap.hesc.ny.gov/totw
Q: The TAP application was prefilled with the first New York State college we entered on the FAFSA, but I haven’t decided which school I want to attend. What if I choose a different school than the one listed on the TAP application?
You have several ways to change the school on the TAP application:
Q. If I receive a full TAP award at a SUNY school, but decide to attend a private college in New York State instead, will my TAP award increase?
- Go online using your ID and HESCPin and change the college code.
- Contact HESC’s call center at 1-888-697-4372 and use the automated system to change the code – you’ll need your HESCPin.
- Ask the financial aid office at the college you will attend to change the school code online at HESC.
Students may receive a maximum TAP award of $5,000, regardless if you are attending a public SUNY college or a private institution
Don’t see an answer to your TAP question here? Visit HESC.org’s TAP Frequently Asked Questions