As spring break approaches, the reality may be settling in for many parents that the time of sending their kids to college is quickly closing in. One of the first steps of the financial aid process for both parents and their children is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). With this in mind, today we’ll answer a couple of the most common questions that we receive with regard to this application and the role it will play in determining your aid eligibility.

What is the FAFSA and how does it impact me?

The FAFSA will be used to generate your Student Aid Report. This is a federal report that helps to provide the assessment on your specific financial situation. When you complete the FAFSA you will receive an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) which will be the measuring stick for your aid. With respect to grants and need based loans, the lower your EFC number the more potential aid you can receive. The lowest score possible is 0, which would qualify you for most eligible aid.

How do I file the FAFSA financial aid form?

The most common method is to apply online here. This is the recommended method but there are other methods available if you do not have access. Here they will ask family information as well as financial.

You can complete a PDF or paper FAFSA by calling Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). If you are hearing impaired, you can contact the TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.

How soon after January 1 should the FAFSA form be sent in? Is it better to wait until my income tax forms have been completed?

In our opinion, it is best to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. You do not have to wait until your taxes are done to complete the FAFSA. It is okay to use estimates on your income and as long as the amounts you use are pretty close to the actual amounts if should not be a major issue. You do have the opportunity to to correct any errors at a later point in time on the Student Aid Report (SAR). The reason this is recommended is because if you wait too long to complete it, you might miss the deadline for many state aid programs.

If students’ parents are divorced, which parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA?

This can be different than the parent who claims a child on their respective tax forms or has custody. The custodial parent would be the parent in whom data would be used. The custodial parent is the parent whom the child lived with the most during the past 12 months. This may be different that the parent who has legal custody. If time is equally spent between both parents, then it would be the parent who provided the child with the most financial support during the past 12 months.

Do step-parents have to report his or her income and assets on the FAFSA?

If a step-parent is living with the custodial parent, then yes the step-parent’s income and assets would need to be included on the FAFSA. Additionally, it will go by the date when you complete and fill out the FAFSA. For example, this means if a custodial parent was married on Jan 1 and the FAFSA was completed Jan 2, the step-parents income would need to be included with their financial information.