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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.


General Questions
Financial and Tax
New York Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
Eligibility/Citizenship/Registration Status

General Questions

Q: We make too much money to qualify for a Pell Grant. Should we still file a FAFSA?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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. Go directly to www.FAFSA.ed.gov.

Q: Do I have to register with Selective Service?
A: 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.

Family/dependency questions

Q: My parents are separated/divorced – which parent’s financial information should I include?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: Use your income and asset information if you are not living in the same household and are separated pending divorce.

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?
A: 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?
A: 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: Is there a question on the FAFSA where a student can indicate the loss of a military parent in Iraq/Afghanistan post 9/11?
A: No, there is not a question about this. Instead, the Department of Education automatically checks a list of affected students provided by the Department of Defense. The Department of Education then contacts those students. If you have lost a parent in this way, please contact your college's financial aid office.

Q: I am living in foster care and completing the FAFSA. What status do I use?
A: 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 2013. 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?
A: Yes; you must indicate your marital status as of the day you are completing the FAFSA and include his income.

Q: The parent who the student resides with is remarried. Do they need to include the stepparent's financial information?
A: If a FAFSA applicant lives in a household where the parent is remarried and here is a stepparent, then the student is required to include information about that stepparent, including financial information.

Q: A student is living with grandparents, who are also the student's legal guardians. Does the student need to put the grandparents' information on the FAFSA?
A: If the grandparents have legal guardianship as determined by a court in the student's state of residence, then the student will be considered independent. The student should be prepared to provide copies of this documentation to the college financial aid office.

Q: A student was kicked out of the home and no longer has contact with the parents. How is the FAFSA filed without parent information?
A: The FAFSA will ask whether the student has access to parent information; if the student indicates "no," then the FAFSA will allow the student to file without parent information. However, the student will need to contact the financial aid office to discuss the situation to determine whether a "dependency override" can be performed.

Financial and Tax Questions

Q: Should we wait until our taxes are done before completing the FAFSA?
A: 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 2013 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?
A: Follow the information on HESC.org's IRS Data Retrieval Tool page.

Q: I can’t find my pension amount for question 94A on my federal tax return. Where can I find this information?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: If there was no other income, enter "0" for the AGI. The disability income should be reported in #91i the "Parents' 2013 untaxed income."

Q: If a parent has 529 College Savings Plans set up for multiple children, some of whom are not in college yet, do they need to report the value of all those 529 plans or just the amount of the plan established for the student listed on the FAFSA?
A: The value of all 529 plans needs to be reported as an asset of the parent. The EFC formula will then take into account how many people the parent is supporting in his/her household and will understand that the parent cannot spend all assets on just one child.

Q: The parents of a student are reporting that the income on their tax return is not indicative of their current income situation. How should they report their income on the FAFSA?
A: The income questions on the FAFSA must be completed as it relates to what is being reported on the Federal Income Tax Return, W2 form, or other income documents. Therefore, if a question on the FAFSA asks what the AGI is, the parents must fill in the amount of the AGI listed on their tax return, regardless of any special circumstance. If an applicant feels their FAFSA information represents an inaccurate picture of their family's financial situation, they should report this to the financial aid offices at the colleges they are applying to. The financial aid administrator will make a determination if the circumstance warrants an adjustment to the FAFSA and, if so, will provide instructions about required documentation.

TAP Questions

Q: Can I complete the FAFSA and TAP application at the same time?
A: Yes! You can apply for TAP at the end of the FAFSA on the confirmation page. Look for the 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?
A: If your FAFSA information indicates you may be eligible for TAP, you will receive an email from HESC within 3 to 5 business days with a link to the online application.

Q: Why did I fail to link to the TAP application after the FAFSA?
A: It could be for a number of reasons: You may have not listed your state of residency as New York State, or you may not have listed an eligible college located in the State of New York.

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?
A: You have several ways to change the school on the TAP application:
  1. Go HESC's Manage My Account using your ID and HESCPin and change the college code.
  2. Contact HESC’s call center at 1-888-697-4372 and use the automated system to change the code – you’ll need your HESCPin.
  3. Ask the financial aid office at the college you will attend to change the school code online at HESC.

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?
A. 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 page.

Eligibility/Citizenship/Registration Status

Q: What determines "eligible noncitizen status?"
A: Generally, you are an eligible noncitizen if you are one of the following: 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: Are students with Refugee or Asylum statuses considered eligible noncitizens on the FAFSA? What if their Alien Registration Number expires?
A: Federal regulations define an eligible noncitizen as someone "able to provide evidence from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that he or she is in the U.S. for other than a temporary purpose with the intention of becoming a citizen or permanent resident." In other words, regulations require that the Department of Education rely upon the determination made by DHS. When a student files a FAFSA, an automatic check is run with DHS to determine whether they are a citizen or eligible noncitizen. If the data match with DHS indicates the student's information did not match with DHS, the college is then required to request documentation from the student to show his or her eligible status. Remember, a DHS provided status can be revoked; therefore the results of a non-match must be appropriately resolved.

Q: How do students who are citizens themselves, but whose parents are undocumented complete the parent information on the FAFSA?
A: A dependent student whose parents are undocumented fills out the FAFSA the same as anyone else, with one exception: If the parents do not have Social Security Numbers (SSNs), the student should enter all zeros in the space for their SSNs. If the parents did not file taxes, they need to indicate as such on the FAFSA and answer the other income questions accordingly (how much earned from work, untaxed income, etc.). If the parents earned an income where they are required to file taxes, then they should do so before filing the FAFSA.

Q: Can an undocumented student complete the FAFSA?
A: An undocumented student will not be considered an "eligible noncitizen" for purposes of the FAFSA an should speak to the financial aid office at his/her intended college to discuss options for financial assistance.