Not Sure About Filing For Financial Aid? State Says You Should Finish FAFSA Anyway

Oct 15, 2019

The window to file the Free Application For Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for the 2020 school year opened this month.

Starting this year, high schools and the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) will better track who files for federal aid, through a data-share agreement authorized by state lawmakers earlier this year. 

CHE director of school and community outreach, Barbie Martin, says some students don’t use FAFSA because they don’t think they’ll qualify for any funding. But she says that’s a critical misconception, and the application is used for students to tap into federal and state financial aid.

“We are first in the Midwest and fourth in the United States in the amount of aid that students can receive and the first step to receiving any of that aid is filing the FAFSA,” she says.

She says keeping better records on who has filed the FAFSA will help school officials encourage students to finish the application.

What do I need to file FAFSA?

Students need their name, social security number, and birthday to start the application, and they’ll also need the social security numbers for the parents they live with. The 2020 FAFSA will use tax and income information from 2018, so students will also need to get a hold of their primary caregivers’ federal tax returns, and W-2 information and income for each parent they live with. Martin says students should also have any information on untaxed income their household receives and says having this ahead of time makes it a faster, easier process to finish. 

Which parent should I file with? 

Martin says file with whoever you actually live with, and if you have a step-parent, you have to include their income on the application too – even if they’re not helping pay for school.

“Under the federal FAFSA rules it’s based on who lives in that house not who pays the bills,” Martin says. 

I live alone. Do I still need parental financial information to file my FAFSA?

Even if you live by yourself, Martin says you probably still have to list yourself as a dependent on the FAFSA. Martin says most students have to file as dependent with their parental unit until age 23. The exception? Martin says you can file the FAFSA as an independent adult if you’re married, have kids you personally care for more often than not, or if you (the filer) have experienced foster care/or been in legal guardianship after the age of 13.

How does the state use my FAFSA?

Indiana uses the FAFSA to consider student awards from the state, but not all of the awards are based on a student’s income, or just focused on helping pay for a two- or four-year college or university. Martin says some awards are, of course, but things like Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grant are merit-based and oriented to a certificate program instead – and are available to students so long as they filed their FAFSA. 

“This is just a back up plan. If they file a FAFSA and don’t end up matriculating to college right after high school it doesn’t hurt them in any way,” she says. 

When should I finish and file my FAFSA?

Martin says to receive Indiana aid, students should file before April 15. But Martin says students should also pay attention to deadlines for colleges and universities since they could be before April 15, and file sooner rather than later because of the first come first serve nature of awards.

Do I have to register for selective service (the draft) even though I’m trans? 

Students between the ages of 18 and 25 who were born male are required to enroll in selective service. If you’re transgender, but do not identify as a man, you still have to register for selective service if you were born male. 

How can I get help or additional information about how to file my FAFSA and financial aid?

Martin says FAFSA.gov is a great place to start, but other options are available throughout the state. On Nov. 2 this year and Feb. 23, 2020 students can visit one of 37 sites throughout the state to get help from financial aid experts on completing their FAFSA. 

Additional resources from both CHE and the U.S. Department of Education can be found online.

Contact Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.