Complete the FAFSA

To apply for federal aid (i.e. loans, grants and work-study) a student must annually complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Most states, and some schools, also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their individual aid programs. The FAFSA is made available each January 1 for the upcoming academic year.

Information supplied on the FAFSA results in the calculation of an EFC (Expected Family Contribution).  This number is a measure of a family's financial strength and is used to calculate eligibility for need-based aid.

The EFC does not reflect the amount the family will pay. That will be determined by the cost of the school and the amount of aid the student receives.

To electronically sign the FAFSA, students, and at least one parent (if student considered to be dependent), will need to apply for an FSA ID.

The FAFSA is a free application. If a family is having difficulty understanding the requirements, free help is readily available at UM or from the US Department of Education (1-800-433-3243). Never pay for assistance in completing the FAFSA.

UM's FAFSA school code is 002536.

FSA ID

Beginning in May 2015, the FAFSA is now electronically signed using an FSA ID instead of a PIN number. Individuals who have an existing PIN will be required to create an FSA ID when they next log in to a federal aid site.

Each individual who needs to sign the FAFSA must have their own FSA ID. When linked to an email address, there can only be one FSA ID per email.

FSA ID's are per individual, not per application. A parent who has two children attending school only needs one ID for themselves and then each student would need an ID as well. The same ID's would then be used in subsequent years as long as they are kept current (are used).

Timeline

UM has a priority awarding date of February 15. To be considered for the maximum aid, a student should apply by the priority date as some aid is limited and is awarded on a first come, first served basis. Note, this date is earlier than what is listed as the state deadline on the FAFSA.

If a family has not completed their taxes prior to February 15, they should use estimated income information to file the FAFSA. Figures should then be updated using the IRS data retrieval tool a few weeks after taxes have been filed for the given year.

In early March, the financial aid office begins sending out award notices to students who have been admitted and have a valid FAFSA on file. A valid FAFSA has an EFC number and lists UM as one of the schools (school code 002536). When filing the FAFSA, if the student did not receive a confirmation number they did not complete the FAFSA.

Independent vs. Dependent

Dependency status on the FAFSA is not based on whether a student is self-supporting. Rather, it is assumed that until a student turns 24 that they are a dependent of their parents (must supply parental information), unless the answer to one of these questions is yes:

  • Were you born before January 1, 1992?
  • As of today, are you married? (Also answer "Yes" if you are separated but not divorced.)
  • At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, graduate certificate, etc.)?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • Do you now have or will you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016?
  • Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2016?
  • At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
  • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2014, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2014, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2014, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

Some students can't answer yes to any of the 13 questions and are unable to provide the required parental information. If an extenuating circumstance exists, then staff in the financial aid office may grant the student a dependency override. This would then make the student independent for FAFSA purposes.

Who Is My Parent?

If considered a dependent student on the FAFSA, a student will need to provide information about their legal parents. A legal parent is a student's biological or adoptive parent, or parent as determined by the state. Information may also be required of a step-parent, regardless of whether they have assumed legal or financial responsibility for the student.

Answer the questions below to determine whose information should be provided:

  1. Are your parents married to each other?
    • If yes, then report information for both parents on the FAFSA.
    • If no, then answer question 2.
  2. Do your parents live together?
    • If yes, then report information for both parents on the FAFSA, even if they were never married, are divorced, or are separated.
    • If no, then answer question 3.
  3. Did you live with one parent more than the other over the past 12 months?
    • If yes, then report information on the FAFSA for the parent you lived with more. Also, if this parent remarried, you will need to report information for your stepparent on the FAFSA.
    • If no, then report information on the FAFSA for the parent who provided more financial support over the past 12 months or in the last year you received support. Also, if this parent remarried, you will need to report information for your stepparent on the FAFSA. 

The following people are not your parents unless they have legally adopted you:

  • Widowed Stepparent
  • Grandparents
  • Foster Parents
  • Legal Guardians
  • Older Brothers or Sisters
  • Aunts or Uncles

Which Assets Must be Reported?

Assets that are not reported include:

  • The home in which a student or parent lives
  • The accrued balance in a Retirement plan (401[k] plans, pension funds, annuities, non-education IRA's, Keogh plans, etc.)
  • A small business, if there are the equivalent of 100 or fewer full-time employees
  • A family farm, if the family lives on the property and actively operate it
  • The value of life insurance
  • UGMA and UTMA accounts, if a student or parent is the custodian but not the owner

Assets that are reported include:

  • Money in cash, savings, and checking accounts
  • A second home or property
  • Businesses that do not meet the conditions listed above
  • Farms that do not meet the conditions listed above
  • Other investments such as stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, etc

The value of a 529 Plan owned by a parent or a dependent student is reported as a parental asset. The value of a 529 Plan owned by an independent student or their spouse is reported as a student asset.

The value of a 529 plan owned by someone other than the student, their spouse or a parent is not reported as an asset. However, a distribution from such a plan is reported as untaxed income on the following year's FAFSA.

Common Law Marriage

Couples who live together for a period of time and hold themselves out to friends, family and the community as "being married," but never get a marriage license, may be considered to be common law married. It is legal in a handful of states, including Montana. Someone who is common law married is actually married and completes legal documents, including tax forms, as such.

Students who believe they are common law married should contact the Director of Financial Aid before completing the FAFSA.

7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA