Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid
In order to qualify for financial aid, both students and their parents must properly fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on time. An application filled with errors will likely reduce the amount of aid a student may receive. With college being so expensive and the FAFSA being so important when it comes to affording higher education, it is imperative to minimize mistakes while completing it.
Here are some common FAFSA mistakes that happen often, and how you can avoid making them yourself.
Procrastinating on Submissions
Waiting until the last minute for anything is usually asking for bad news, and it’s no exception when it comes to filing the FAFSA. Many people wait until they have all of their financial documents in place, and taxes completed before submitting their FAFSA. However, it’s important to note that financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. So, it’s essential to submit as soon as the FAFSA form becomes available in January. Even submitting estimates of your finances is better than waiting too long to submit. Some states and colleges run out of money early, and you don’t want that to be the reason why you couldn’t get aid.
Failing to Get a FSA ID Before Filing
Before filling out the FAFSA form, you need to obtain an FSA ID. Do this as soon as you can, because you may have to wait up to three business days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA form electronically. The FSA ID is essentially a username and password that you use to log into certain United States Department of Education websites, including fafsa.gov. Both students and parents need to create and use separate FSA IDs! Not filing with separate FSA IDs could cause problems or delays with your financial aid.
Not Submitting Because of Income
Some students are under the impression that because their parents make too much, they aren’t eligible for financial aid – so why even bother filing for the FAFSA? This is a common misconception. Income is only one of seven factors used to determine aid eligibility, so don’t let it deter you from completing the FAFSA. If you don’t file, you definitely don’t get anything. Since it’s free to fill it out, you really aren’t missing out on anything by doing it!
Remember that when filling out the FAFSA, parents must add any contributions to their 401k, 403b, or any other pre-tax retirement account in the previous year to their income. This may produce a higher FAFSA income than what might be shown on your tax return, but won’t necessarily prevent students from receiving aid. Being as accurate as possible is key.
While some may understate income, others may overstate their retirement assets as part of their investments or net worth. Retirement assets should not be accounted for or included in the FAFSA. For FAFSA purposes, primary residence home equity is also omitted. But, equity in rental property and vacation homes can be included.
Not Saving Progress as You Go
The last thing you want to do is lose your progress while filling out the FAFSA, especially as you get closer to the end. We recommend saving your file as you go, at least every page or two. You never know when something could happen. Technology can fail, or the government’s server can lock up, and you could lose everything!
Not Considering Each Question Carefully
It’s crucial to not rush through the application, and ensure that you are understanding each question fully, answering as thoroughly and accurately as you can. How you answer can interfere with how much you receive. For example, if you are asked if you are interested in work-study, answer yes. This doesn’t automatically mean that you have to take the opportunity if the award is not a great offer for the hours expected. By saying no, you are immediately closing the door to a potentially awesome opportunity! Finally, be sure to double-check the spelling of everything, especially contact information like your email address.
Filing Paper vs. Electronic
These days, we recommend the electronic route when completing the FAFSA. You can easily save as you go, and it provides built-in edits to help prevent errors, ensures everything is filled out, is more time-efficient, offers a simple renewal process, and even includes an online help feature.
Providing False Information for Divorced Parents
FAFSA filers often get stumped when it comes to filing with divorced parents. Who’s financial information is supposed to be used? The proper way to file is to use the income and assets of the household, including the information of the step-parent. Wherever the students spend the majority of their time and receives most of their financial support is what should be considered.
Listing Only One College
If you are planning to apply to more than one college, then you must list all of them on the FAFSA. Colleges can’t see other schools you’ve included, so you should include them all even if you’re not sure whether you’ll apply for sure, or be accepted. 10 schools can be added at one time. Adding more schools won’t hurt. If you end up deciding later on you don’t want to go to a certain school, that school can simply disregard your FAFSA form. You can also always remove schools at any time to make room for new schools you may be interested in.
Forgetting to Sign the FAFSA Form
While it may seem like a no-brainer to sign the FAFSA form, many students and parents will answer every question but fail to actually sign the form with their FSA ID before submitting. Students and parents alike may forget their FSA IDs and as a result, forget to sign the form properly. This would render your application incomplete, so ensure to sign with your FSA ID and check your status immediately after submitting your FAFSA form online for confirmation.
Completing the FAFSA for the first time can be confusing for both students and parents. However, getting started early, taking the time to really read through the questions and answering accurately, saving progress as you go, filing online electronically, and remembering to do everything under your FSA ID will ensure that your FAFSA application is complete, and increase your chances of getting financial aid for college.