Be Careful about Tax Line Number Changes

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When completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), families are urged to file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1. They are told not to wait until they’ve filed their federal income tax returns or for the student’s admission to a college. Instead, they can use estimates of their income and taxes based on the last pay stubs of the prior calendar year, as well as W-2 and 1099 statements. Errors will be corrected later, using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, after they file their federal income tax returns. If families have already filed their prior-prior year tax returns, they can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer their income and tax information to the FAFSA.

If the family’s financial situation does not change much from one year to the next, sometimes the family will use their federal income tax returns from a previous year to provide estimates of the income and tax figures for the FAFSA. For example, when filing the 2017-2018 FAFSA, the family should use income and tax information from their 2015 federal income tax returns. 

However, by using the prior-prior year's federal income tax return via the IRS Data Retrieval Tool., this will ensure that the correct information is being reported on the FAFSA. The FAFSA references specific line numbers from the federal income tax return.

This table highlights the relevant line numbers that need to be referenced in the 2015 federal income tax returns.

Item 2015 Federal Income Tax Returns
Income Tax
  • Line 56 minus Line 46 (1040) 
  • Line 28 minus Line 36 (1040A)
  • Line 10 (1040EZ)
Education Credits
  • Line 50 (1040)
  • Line 33 (1040A)
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