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5 FAFSA FAQs for 2016-2017

Author: Financial Success | Image: Financial Success

While the 2nd week of the Spring semester is underway, many students and families are working on filing their FAFSA for next year. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the first step in ensuring you receive the necessary federal aid to fund your education here at Iowa State. But the FAFSA can also be VERY confusing! And to add to the confusion, there have been some changes with how students and families now log into the FAFSA and provide their information. Here are some of your common questions answered!

1. What is an FSA ID and do I need one?

You may have received an email from the US Department of Education urging you to create your FSA ID and password for the FAFSA. This may have looked strange to you but it is very legitimate request. Instead of using a 4 digit PIN to access your FAFSA, they have now migrated to using a “username and password” login. Both parents AND students need to create one. You will not be able to access your FAFSA without one. Parents will use their FSA ID and password to sign a dependent child’s FAFSA. Visit to get an FSA ID now.

2. How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed 2015 taxes yet?

When filing out the 2016-2017 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2015 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t even received their W-2s yet, let alone filed their taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from meeting our priority aid deadline of March 1st. (You MUST file by March 1st every year to receive priority aid, like the ISU Grant and other institutional awards).

If you haven’t filed yet, you do have the option to estimate on your FAFSA, and then you can go back in and correct your application after you’ve filed. If your 2015 income is similar to your 2014 income, use your 2014 tax return to provide good estimates of your income. If your income is not similar, use the Income Estimator for assistance. Again, you will be required to update once you have actually filed your taxes.

3. I see the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. What is that?

When you are importing the student and parental income information into the FAFSA, this is the option to flood in your current tax data from the IRS directly into the FAFSA. This makes your job a lot easier! This option will be readily available the first Sunday in February but there are some factors that might limit who can use it. Depending on whether you filed your taxes electronically or by mail, you may be able to use the IRS DRT in as little as two weeks from when you filed your tax return.
REMEMBER: If you submitted your FAFSA before you filed your taxes, you can still transfer your tax return information. Log in to your FAFSA and update your tax return status to “Already Completed.” You will see the link to the IRS DRT. Just follow the steps then resubmit the application.

4. Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college. If you filled out a FAFSA last year and want to renew it, go to, click “Login”, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the demographic and non-financial questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.

5. Which FAFSA do I complete?

When you log into, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA” and “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?

• If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA.”
• If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, select “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.”

Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.

TIP: If you need to fill out both applications, complete the 2015–16 FAFSA first. That way, when you complete the 2016–17 FAFSA, a lot of your info will automatically roll over.

We hope these FAQs help you with filing your FAFSA. As always, please let our office know if you’re having any troubles. We are also hosting a FAFSA help workshop in Ames on Saturday, Februrary 13th at the DMACC Hunziker Center from 9 AM to noon. All students and families are welcome to receive assistance with completing the FAFSA. We hope to see you there!

Stay warm, Cyclones!