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 January 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 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 2015-2016 FAFSA, the family might use income and tax information from their 2013 federal income tax returns as an estimate of the values on their 2014 federal income tax return.

However, when basing estimates on a previous year’s federal income tax return, it is important to double-check that the correct information is being reported on the FAFSA. The FAFSA references specific line numbers from the federal income tax return. But, sometimes these line numbers change from one year to the next. For example, line numbers changed from the 2013 federal income tax returns to the 2014 federal income tax returns. The line numbers on the 2015-2016 FAFSA, which refer to the 2014 federal income tax returns, will not yield the correct results if the family copies information from the same line numbers from the 2013 federal income tax returns.

This table highlights the relevant line numbers that have changed from the 2013 to the 2014 federal income tax returns.

Item 2013 Federal Income Tax Returns 2014 Federal Income Tax Returns
Income Tax 55 (1040), 35 (1040A), 10 (1040EZ) 56 (1040), 37 (1040A), 10 (1040EZ)
Education Credits 49 (1040), 31 (1040A) 50 (1040), 33 (1040A)
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