The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the typical form filled out by current and prospective college students in the United States. To avoid common mistakes while filling out this important form, read the following suggestions.
The number one mistake people make when filling out the FAFSA is not filling it out at all. The FAFSA is a lengthy form and some put off filling it out because of common misperceptions. For instance, there is no “cut off” for income requirements. Some families believe that if they fall into a certain income bracket, they won’t be eligible for aid. Also, it’s a lengthy form with data requirements and deadlines, so it can seem daunting, but there are help texts for every question and help resources available online and in person through financial aid offices. Another misperception is that completing the FAFSA is just for getting expensive student loans. It is the form that drives and determines many things, however, including financial aid eligibility, grants, scholarships and work study. The application is free and most colleges and universities require it, so it’s best to get it done and get it done early. When tackling this form, avoid the following common mistakes:
1. Inputting incorrect information.
The prime example of inputting incorrect information is entering a wrong social security number. Identity and eligibility go hand-in-hand. One missed digit is a crucial mistake when social security numbers are matched against government databases. Another example of inputting incorrect information is a legal name mistake. Many people go by a different name, such as a middle name or nickname that is not listed the same way on an official document. The application process could be halted unless a legal name is confirmed by a match on a social security card or birth certificate. Make sure to check that your most important information is correct.
2. Leaving out required information.
If you are considered a dependent student, you will need to provide parental information. Sometimes students leave out required parental information or confuse the parent and student information sections. Even if you live on your own, are employed and file taxes, the dependency status still stands. There are a number of questions on the FAFSA form itself to help you determine if you’re considered a dependent. Most undergraduate students under the age of 24 are almost always dependent unless they are married, have their own dependents, are in the US Armed Forces or are an emancipated minor.
3. Listing only one college.
It may be a good idea to have more options when filling out the FAFSA for the first time. Students need to list at least one college, but they can list up to 10 institutions. The FAFSA information will then be sent to each of those schools. Students can even submit the information and then add or delete more colleges later. There’s no harm in listing potential schools even if students do not end up applying there. Schools can just disregard the information if students do not end up applying or attending. The order in which you list the colleges does not normally impact eligibility for aid, but you will need to list an eligible in-state college to be considered for state grant aid.
4. Not utilizing the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
Using the IRS data retrieval tool is a great way to streamline tax information. This tool allows tax filers to provide consent to the IRS to upload data from a federal tax return at the time the FAFSA is filled out. Using the IRS DRT allows applicants to automatically populate the FAFSA form. This is especially important for students who have unique situations, such as only one parent filing taxes or a parent who is not a United States citizen. The IRS DRT saves time and it reduces the odds of making mistakes by manually inputting data, so go ahead and utilize this free resource.
5. Not signing the FAFSA.
Yes, this does happen. Not signing the FAFSA stops the processing, so it’s important not to overlook it. If completing the form electronically, the confirmation will arrive within a couple days, so if no confirmation shows up, it would be a good idea to double check that you signed it. If for some reason you cannot sign with your FSA ID, there is an option to mail in an official signature page.
6. Overlooking your FSA ID.
The FSA ID is a username and password that serves as a legal signature for the Federal Student Aid’s online systems. It’s the fastest way to have your FAFSA application processed. It’s also needed to access or change the form. Your ID could be used for signing promissory notes, entrance and exit counseling, and keeping track of documents on the National Student Loan Data System. You will need to provide sensitive information (like a social security number) for obtaining an FSA ID and this information will need to be verified, so it’s important not to wait until the last minute.
7. Missing the deadline.
States and colleges set their own deadlines and some states offer aid until it runs out — on a first come, first served basis. The federal deadline is June 30th each year, but it’s best not to wait until the federal deadline. Ideally, students should fill out the FAFSA after it opens on October 1st to maximize chances of getting aid for the following academic year when the aid will be used. Being proactive and filing early can amount to more options and more money for college. Additionally, the FAFSA must be renewed every academic year, so keep those deadlines in mind while attending college.
The FAFSA is the very first step to getting the financial assistance you might need for your post-secondary education. Educating yourself about the different types of financial aid, avoiding common mistakes, and completing your data in a timely manner can make all the difference for easing the process and getting better results.