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2017-18 Completing a FAFSA®


March 30, 2017 announcement from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) indicates that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that allows students and families to transfer their federal tax data directly into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is currently unavailable, and is not expected to come back online before the start of the 2018-19 FAFSA processing cycle in October of 2017.

The FAFSA can still be completed electronically, but income and tax information will need to be entered manually (as was done before the IRS DRT became available). Applicants can complete the 2017-18 FAFSA using either a copy of their 2015 tax returns, data from their 2015 tax software, or information from their 2016-17 FAFSA if they have one on file.

If 2015 tax information is not readily available, applicants can file the FAFSA using estimated tax information and then order an IRS Tax Transcript (either online, by mail or phone), and then use that data to correct/update the FAFSA. Or, they may opt to wait until the IRS DRT becomes available again and use the tool to correct the FAFSA at that point.

Students with questions about FAFSA completion can contact their local ISACorps member, send a text message to the ISAC College Q & A service, or contact an ISAC Call Center Representative.


New in 2017-18 
Completing the FAFSA
     Critical Data
     IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)
FAFSA Output - Student Aid Report (SAR & ISIR)

New in 2017-18

Students will be able to file a 2017–18 FAFSA beginning October 1, 2016, rather than beginning on January 1, 2017. In addition, students will be required to report income information from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students (and parents, as appropriate) will report their 2015 income information, rather than their 2016 income information.

Refer to the 2017-18 Summary of Changes for the Application Processing System for details regarding all changes to the application process, including the FAFSA filing deadline change, color, FAFSA on the Web and paper application changes and enhancements, the application processing schedule, CPS and ISIR changes and FAA Access to CPS changes.


Students and parents can use FAFSA4caster (a link to the site from the FAFSA on the Web home page) to familiarize themselves to the FAFSA application process, various types of financial aid that are available and to obtain an early eligibility estimate for federal student aid. FAFSA4caster is for anyone who is not yet ready to file a FAFSA. A student does not have to be a high school senior to use FAFSA4caster; in fact, the tool is recommended for juniors, and even as early as middle school.

Completing the FAFSA

The 2017-18 electronic version, FAFSA on the Web (FOTW), and the paper FAFSA (English and Spanish versions) are comprised of seven steps or sections, depending on the application that is used. Prior to beginning the FAFSA application process, applicants filing a FAFSA electronically should complete the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet, access the various links from the FOTW homepage, the Introduction page that displays before a FAFSA entry is started and read instructions provided with each FAFSA question. If the paper FAFSA is completed, refer to the instructions included in the application booklet.

Applicants can refer to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website to obtain detailed information about the application process and completing either FAFSA version, creating an FSA ID and links to worksheets and the PDF version of the FAFSA or they can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1.800.4FED AID.  Applicants filing electronically via FAFSA on the Web can click on the Help? button at the top of the page to access answers to common questions, use the search feature and to contact the FSAIC using the Live Help, e-mail or telephone options to obtain additional assistance.

The following is a list of the pages included in the FOTW sections and “steps” included in the paper FAFSA. The questions on each version of the application are presented in a different order, but both result in the determination of the same Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

FAFSA on the Web Draft Paper FAFSA
Student Demographics & Eligibility Step One - Student Information
School Selection * Step Two - Student Tax and Asset Information
Student Dependency Status Information Step Three - Student Dependency Status
Parental Demographics Step Four - Parent Information (household size, income, tax, and asset information)
Financial Information Step Five - Independent Student Household Size Information
Sign and Submit Step Six - College Choices and Housing Information*
Confirmation Step Seven - Signatures

*A MAP-approved postsecondary school must be reported as one of the college choices to be considered for a MAP Grant.

Remind students that, when completing the 2017-18 FAFSA (electronic or paper) they should:

  • gather all the suggested documents needed;
  • use the FAFSA on the Web worksheet only for applications filed electronically using FAFSA on the Web;
  • follow all instructions and complete all questions; and
  • observe the federal and state deadlines.

The CPS reads paper FAFSA’s electronically. To improve the readability of a paper FAFSA, applicants should read the “Filling Out the FAFSA” section on page 2 of the paper FAFSA booklet.  Encourage students to:

  • use a pen with black ink;
  • print carefully in CAPITAL letters and skip a box between words;
  • not write “N/A” or margin notes;
  • not leave anything blank; 
  • round figures to the nearest dollar, report whole dollar amounts with no cents; and
  • if an answer is zero or the questions does not apply, enter 0 with no cents.

Critical Student Data

In addition to the FAFSA data elements that are required to determine a student's EFC, there are critical data elements that must be reported on the FAFSA to determine a student's eligibility for the MAP grants. The number referenced in parentheses are from the paper FAFSA. They are:

  • What is the student's state of legal residence? (#18)
  • Will the student have a bachelor's degree before July 1, 2016 (answer must be no)? (#28)
  • What is the student’s grade level at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year? (#29)
  • Will the student be working on a master's or doctorate program at the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year (answer must be no)? (#48)
  • What is the parent’s  state of legal residence? (#70)

IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)

The IRS DRT allows students and parents, who have already filed their federal income tax return, to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA, and securely and accurately transfer the data directly into their FAFSA from the IRS website. The IRS DRT can be used when initially completing their FAFSA online or later by using the FAFSA online correction process. If eligible to use the IRS DRT, the applicant should click Link To IRS on FOTW to transfer tax return information from the IRS website into their FAFSA. The IRS DRT will be available to use for transferring 2015 tax information to the 2017-18 FAFSA on October 1, 2016.

There are several reasons an applicant is not eligible to use the IRS DRT. The IRS DRT filtering questions on FOTW explain that the answers to the questions determine if the tool can be used to transfer tax return information from the IRS to the FAFSA. When an applicant is ineligible to retrieve their tax data using the IRS DRT, they will need to enter their tax return information manually. If the applicant is ineligible or otherwise chooses not to use the IRS DRT to retrieve tax information, the college may require a copy of the student’s IRS Tax Return Transcript (and parents’ IRS Tax Return Transcript, if the student is dependent). 

For renewal applicants filing electronically, the FOTW includes new edits to warn applicants if there are conflicts between the income information reported on the 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSAs allowing changes to be made before the 2017-18 FAFSA is submitted. To reduce the burden on FAFSA applicants and colleges, the Central Processing System (CPS) will compare the 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSAs to determine if there is conflicting income information between the two Institutional Student Information Records (ISIR). If the conflict could impact the student’s eligibility, a “C” code will display next to the EFC and comment code 399 will be included on the Student Aid Report (SAR) and ISIR to inform the college that it must resolve the possible conflicting information.

The Financial Aid Advisor (FAA) at the college can refer to the Student and Parent IRS Request Flags in the 2017-18 ISIR Guide, to determine if an applicant was eligible for the IRS data retrieval process, if data was retrieved from the IRS, and if the data from the IRS was modified. The IRS Request Flag is different from the IRS Display Flag (also described in the guide), which informs the college if the student or parent was presented with the IRS DRT, and if not, the reason it was not displayed.

There are several sources to obtain additional details about the IRS DRT.

FAFSA Output – Student Aid Report (SAR)

After filing the FAFSA, the processor will analyze the application information using a federal formula to calculate an EFC. The results of the application are sent on an ISIR via EDE Express to the colleges listed on the FAFSA. Students will receive an electronic or paper SAR depending on the type of FAFSA filed and whether the applicant's e-mail address was provided on the FAFSA.

New in 2017-18, the Federal School Code information on the SAR will not change.  Applicants will continue to receive SARs that list all the Federal School Codes selected on each transaction and will continue to have the same options for entering, updating, and viewing up to ten college choices on FOTW and up to four choices on a paper SAR. FAAs will see only their school information (Federal School Code, Name, and Housing Plans) in FAA Correction Entry, Student Inquiry, and ISIR Compare and on the eSAR (PDF and HTML).  The ISIR received by State Agencies will list all of the Federal School Codes selected by the applicant on each transaction.

  • An e-mail Notification of Processing is sent to the applicant within 3-5 days of processing with a link to access and print an electronic SAR (e-SAR), if the student provides an e-mail address;
  • A SAR Acknowledgement is mailed within 7-10 days to the applicant if the FAFSA is filed via FAFSA on the Web but an e-mail address is not provided; or
  • A paper SAR will be mailed to all FAFSA applicants within three weeks.

There are separate pages within the 2017-18 FAFSA Completion area that provide additional details about the Student Aid Report (SAR) and FAFSA Corrections.