2016-2017 FAFSA FAQ


FAFSA timelines, tips and common errors

MAP Grant deadlines and calculator

FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool

Estimating federal tax information on FAFSA

Updating FAFSA with actual tax information

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)


You must complete this application for each academic year to determine your eligibility to participate in federal, state, and institutional grant and loan programs.  The FAFSA is available beginning January 1 preceding the academic year.  An academic year generally consists of a fall, spring and summer term.  Schools must define whether summer begins or ends an academic year for financial aid purposes.  NIU has defined the academic year to begin with fall and end with summer. The 2015 -2016 FAFSA is for the Fall 2015, Spring 2016 and Summer 2016 academic year. The 2016 -2017 FAFSA is for the Fall 2016, Spring 2017 and Summer 2017 academic year. 

When is the best time to file the 2016-2017 FAFSA for students who receive or hope to receive the MAP grant? 

Now!  MAP grant eligible students should plan to file the FAFSA as early as possible in January or early February.  The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) uses a “first-come, first-served” methodology, based on the FAFSA processing date, to allocate limited funds.  Once the state-wide application volume reaches the estimated number of students that can be funded, ISAC suspends all future applications.  

  • For 2014-2015, ISAC has suspended MAP awards for all students with an original FAFSA processing date greater then February 27, 2014.
  • For 2015-2016 ISAC has suspended MAP awards for all student with an original FAFSA processing date greater then February 21, 2015.
  • For 2016-2017 we anticipate the suspension date to be even earlier than prior years.

It is advisable to complete the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.  The second best option is to use information from a completed tax return.  If the student or parent tax return cannot be completed in time to ensure meeting the MAP deadline, you can use estimated tax information.   Even though you will have to update the tax information later, the original FAFSA processing date is always used for the MAP deadline.  See FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool and How to Estimate Taxes.


I am not eligible for MAP grant, when should I plan to file the 2016-2017 FAFSA?

  • Complete the 2016-2017 FAFSA as soon after January 1, 2016 as possible.
  • Students whose financial resources put them out of the range to receive the MAP grant would be best served to complete their federal tax returns before filing the FAFSA. 
  • MAP Calculator:  http://www.isac.org/calculators/  


What are the best practices for reporting tax information on FAFSA?

  • Plan to have the required 2015 tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) early, January or February if possible.
  • Utilize the FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool, if eligible, to report and/or update federal tax information.
  • Use the completed tax return data if your taxes are complete but haven’t been filed/processed by the IRS.
  • Estimating tax information is acceptable but will need to be updated if the data originally reported has changed. 
  • Carefully review the FAFSA Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy of reported information.

What are some of the common application errors to avoid? 

  • Report only whole dollar amounts; do not include cents.
  • Be sure to report student and parent earnings from work.
  • Take care not to report parent income information in the student section.
  • Do not report the value of the family’s primary residence.
  • Don’t forget the parent and the student need to sign the FAFSA using their FSAID.
  • Accurately report all names, dates-of-birth and Social Security Numbers on the FAFSA.

You should double check to make sure your name, date of birth, and Social Security Number are also reported accurately on your NIU Admission application.   These three data elements are used to match the results of your FAFSA to your student record.  Last year over 600 new students reported one of these items incorrectly on either the FAFSA or NIU Admission application, resulting in significant delays. 

MAP Grant


How do I apply for the MAP grant?

The FAFSA serves as the application for both federal financial aid and the State of Illinois MAP grant.

Is there any way to know if I may be eligible for MAP Grant?

ISAC EFC Calculator:  http://www.isac.org/calculators/    

Why does the MAP Grant deadline get earlier and earlier?

For the past several years the deadline to file the FAFSA for MAP Grant consideration has been earlier each subsequent year due to limited funding availability, increasing numbers of applicants, and ISAC’s need to suspend awarding to stay within their level of funding for the year. 

What is the MAP deadline date for 2015-2016?

February 21, 2015. FAFSA applications submitted after this date were placed in a suspense status and will not have MAP awarded unless additional funding becomes available. The funding cutoff date is dependent on application volume and could be even earlier this year.

FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is a feature that helps streamline the FAFSA by allowing online FAFSA filers to securely pull tax data directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  

What are the advantages to using the retrieval tool?

  • The retrieval tool simplifies the application process
  • Increases the accuracy of your FAFSA information
  • Minimizes the documentation you may be required to submit to NIU

How soon after filing 2015 federal taxes can the retrieval tool be used?

  • Electronically filed tax return information should be available online from the IRS site 1-2 weeks after the return has been filed, beginning in February
  • Data from paper tax returns will be available 6-8 weeks from the point of mailing them to the IRS
  • Please note that you may experience a delay if you owe taxes to the IRS

This option is not available if: 

  • The marital status changed after December 31, 2015
  • The tax filing status was married filing separately
  • An amended return was filed
  • A foreign tax return was filed
  • A tax return was filed using a Tax ID Number (TIN)
  • The home address on the FAFSA does not match the address on the tax return

How to Estimate Taxes 

When completing the "Financial Information" sections on FAFSA, for both the student and parent sections, you will need to provide both your 2015 income and the amount of income tax paid. If you have not yet filed a 2015 tax return, there are a number of methods available to estimate "taxes paid."

No change to income as compared to last year

If your income has not changed in the past year, the easiest way to estimate taxes is to use your 2014 tax return information and indicate "I will fill but have not yet completed my return." Once your taxes are filed, update tax information to 2015 figures.

Slight change to income as compared to last year

  • Use the FAFSA Income Estimator- When completing the FAFSA, indicate "I will file but have not yet completed my return." You will then be given the option to utilize the FAFSA Income Estimator.


  • Alternatively, you can choose to calculate your own estimated taxes using these steps:
  1. Locate the "total tax" amount on your 2014 federal income tax return (line 56 on IRS Form 1040, line 39 on 1040A, line 12 on 1040EZ).
  2. Divide this number by your 2013 adjusted gross income (line 37 on IRS Form 1040, line 2 on 1040A, line 4 on 1040EZ).
  3. Multiply the resulting number by your estimate of 2015 adjusted gross income to arrive at your 2015 estimate of tax paid.

Updating the FAFSA with Actual Tax Information

Once your 2015 taxes have been filed, you will need to update the information reported on FAFSA to reflect the actual information from your 2015 tax return.  You should use the FAFSA correction process to update your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you are ineligible or choose not to use the retrieval process you may enter the updated tax information manually. You will also need to indicate you "have already completed my tax return."  Students who submitted their FAFSA with a tax filing status of "Will File" may not be issued an award notification until their 2015 tax information has been updated to "have already completed my tax return."