College students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, every year to qualify for federal assistance. Most schools require the completion of the form for both need and merit-based aid, and dole out awards on a first come, first serve basis.
Mistakes made when completing the form can cause delays and cost you money in the form of a reduced financial aid package.
The earliest you can complete the FAFSA is January 1st each year.
To Avoid the Most Common Mistakes, Do the Following:
Check it Twice
Mistyping the name, social security number, or birthday is among the top four mistakes made when completing the FAFSA. Double check these details to ensure their accuracy as you type them in and once again before submitting.
Name: The FAFSA requires your full legal name recognized by the Federal Government. Typically, this means using the name listed on your social security card. For name changes, do not enter a new name until the social security office processes the update. Do not use nicknames or initials.
Social security: Not all applicants have a social security number. Rather than leaving the entry blank, enter 000-00-0000. Do not make up a social security number or write a taxpayer identification number in place of the social security number.
Have Important Documents on Hand
Not completely answering all the questions or answering them incorrectly is among the top mistakes. To avoid this mistake, collect essential documents before beginning.
The Department of Education created a checklist that will help speed up the process. The information you will need will include asset accounts and income for both the student and parent of dependent students.
Helpful tips include:
- Your adjusted gross income (AGI) is not always the same as total income. In many instances, the adjusted gross income (AGI) is higher than total income earned from working, which does not count passive income from sources such as interest earned.
- When you do not have any of the requested items, place a “0” in the field rather than leaving it blank.
- Round to the nearest dollar rather than using decimal points or commas.
- The term “you,” on the form, refers to the student
- Use a permanent address instead of a campus or summer address
File the Right Year
You can submit the FAFSA form beginning January 1st for the following school year, which typically runs from July 1 to June 30. The information gathered uses income from the previous year. For example, if you will attend college in the fall of 2018, complete the 2018-19 FAFSA, beginning January 1st, 2018, and report income from the 2017 tax return. Summer session attendees will depend on the date classes begin.
It is acceptable to estimate income based on your last paycheck of the year and then update income after filing your return. There is an option for both CSS PROFILE and FAFSA, which allows the student and parent to indicate the intent to file taxes prior to doing so. However, one of the most common mistakes is a failure to bring the income up-to-date after filing taxes.
Sign the Form
The last common mistake is forgetting to enter the pin, for both the student and the parent, as the electronic signature. You can receive an award letter without the signature, but you will not receive aid until you have a signature on file.
You can use the same PIN number and password for multiple years, and it is possible to reset the password if you forget it.
Other common mistakes include the following:
Veteran Status. Only those on active duty or discharged are considered veterans. For instance, participation in ROTC, National Guard, or Reserves, does not qualify.
Males between 18 to 26, must register with the selective service to be eligible for federal aid.
Household size. Even though the student is often away at school, they still count as a member of the household during the award year. Include any unborn children, due before or during the award year as a member of the household.
Dependent and independent status. Independent students only use their information to qualify for aid, whereas dependent students require both the parent and student’s information. There are strict rules to obtain independent status. Most undergraduate students qualify as dependents.
For those living in a divorced or separated household, the parent the student lived with most during the past 12 months maintains responsibility for filling out the FAFSA form. Household income and assets can include the natural parent and a step-parent, in the case of a remarriage. You cannot withhold assets in prenuptial agreements.
Edvisors has a quick survey which can help you determine your child’s status if you have questions.
Income can vary depending on the source of the money. For example, an earned income credit received on your tax return is untaxed income to report on the FAFSA form. Additional untaxed income can include contributions to a retirement plan, housing allowances, and military food.
Taxable earnings include money from work-study jobs, in addition to grants or scholarships reported on your income tax return. Prepaid tuition counts as an asset on the FAFSA.
You can submit the FAFSA through the mail or electronically. When submitting by mail, do not include any forms or verification. Do not add comments in the margins or add unrequired information. You only need to provide documentation, if requested, or if you file an appeal. Lastly, copy the application before mailing.
You can use a tool provided by the Department of Education to estimate the amount of aid you will qualify for, planning purposes only. Contact the university's financial aid office for additional questions or assistance in completing the required forms.