The FAFSA form, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is something that anyone hoping to go to college has to fill out. At least, if you’re hoping to get any type of federal aid or grants. In most cases, colleges and universities even require you to fill this out if you’re looking for non-federal grants and support. In short, if you want financial help at all, you’re probably going to have to go through this process.
If you don’t do it properly, however, you could end up getting less money or you could end up waiting for your money. That’s why you want to keep an eye on some of the most common mistakes and make sure these things don’t happen to you.
1. Wrong Social Security Number
Your social security number identifies you to the government and if the number doesn’t match the other information you submitted your application will be rejected. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of time because the form goes to the Social Security Administration and then alerts your school who alerts you. Then you have to fill out the form again. Instead, take a look at your number again before you submit and double-check it against your card.
2. Wrong Asset Reporting
The government isn’t going to look into your finances and let you know that you reported assets that you didn’t need to. Instead, they’re going to count those assets and give you financial aid based on what you tell them. That means you could end up getting less money.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to report everything. There are certain things like 401k, IRA balances, whole life insurance and more that are not considered assets through the FAFSA and you should not report them. If you have any questions or concerns you should always contact the helpline or talk to a professional to find out what you should be including and what you shouldn’t.
3. Not Filing
Whether you think you make too much to get anything back or not it’s important that you at least file the FAFSA. It doesn’t take that long and there are a number of different programs that will give you money, even if you fit into the middle class.
If you’re looking for scholarships or grants through your school you’ll also need to fill this in and you may qualify for help or support even if you’re in the upper-income brackets.
4. Waiting Too Long
If you fill out your form too late you could end up missing out on some support. If you file right after the January 1 open date you could end up with up to twice as much support as someone who waits a few more months. That’s because a lot of support is going to be doled out to people on a first-come, first-served basis.
The money could run out before it gets to you if you wait too long. So, make sure you use estimations rather than waiting around until taxes are filed. You can update information after you’ve submitted it if you use estimations.
Make sure you know the deadlines that are active in your state so that you’re ready and waiting to jump on that form as soon as it’s available.
5. Not Knowing Dependency Status
If you are not considered independent you’ll need to fill out information for yourself as well as for your custodial parent.
Keep in mind that if you have divorced parents your custodial parent is the one that you spend most nights with throughout the year as well as their spouse if they have remarried. This may not be the parent that claims you on their taxes and it may not be the parent that has legal custody either. You may need to discuss this with your parents to make sure you have the right one ready to fill out the form.
On the other hand, if you have a parent who provides more financial support for you this is also allowed to be considered your custodial parent, as long as you spend equal time with both parents throughout the year. For those who aren’t really sure which parent to consider as the custodial parent, you can contact the Department of Education to find out more about how to make the determination. But do it early so you can fill out your forms right away.
6. Going Snail Mail
Most things are going to online now and your FAFSA form is no different. You’ll be able to answer only the relevant questions here, and you won’t even have to look at the others. That’s because the online format is more intuitive, it’s more accurate and it’s going to be processed faster.
Not only that but there’s a pre-application worksheet that helps you get everything you need together before you start. Even better, the form itself will let you know if you’ve made one of several common errors and it lets you save a partially completed form.
7. Reporting Too Low Income
If you report your income too low you may get more help upfront, but when the government finds out that there was an error you could be subject to some problems. At best you’ll find that you get less money than originally promised. At worst you could end up with fines and penalties over and above what they take back.
Usually, you’re going to have to submit information from two years prior to the one you’re filing for. If you’re filling out the FAFSA for 2019-2020 you would need taxes from 2017, for example.
Keep in mind that the government checks your tax forms in relation to your FAFSA and if information doesn’t match up they’re going to notice. So, make sure you have all of your tax information right next to you when you fill out your forms so you can make sure everything is accurate. Also, make sure that you use the different tools that are provided with the online form to make sure you get the right information where it needs to be.
8. Not Listing Your School
The FAFSA gives you space to submit 10 different schools that will receive your results. If you don’t put their number or name down they’re not going to get the results and you’ll have to go in and manually request a correction in order to add them to the list. If you don’t put them on the list and they don’t get your results they’re not going to offer you a financial aid package and that could be a reason that you can’t go to that school.
9. Not Double-Checking Submission
If you don’t double-check that your forms have been submitted you might not actually be done with the process. There are always problems that can happen with an online system, and the FAFSA is definitely no different. You should get a confirmation from the submission and if you don’t, look for a problem.
- Legal Name – this must be on your form when you submit it. It doesn’t matter what name you go by. The name on your form needs to match the name on your social security card.
- Correct Address– You need a permanent address listed, which is not your temporary housing or your summer address.
- Unborn Children – If you are currently pregnant or your partner is and you will be providing support for that child of at least half, and the child will be born during or before the year you’re applying for help, count them. They are considered a member of your household.
- Leaving Blanks – If you leave too many blanks you may end up with improper numbers and that could get you rejected. If you don’t have anything you can put a 0 or put ‘not applicable’ instead of leaving blanks.
10. Not Getting an FSA ID
You need to have an FSA ID in order to file your FAFSA form and it can take up to three days before you can use that ID. That means you need to get the ID for you and for your parent a few days before you plan to submit your forms. If you wait until you’re filling out the FAFSA form you may have to save your application and come back to it a different day in order to actually submit it, which could delay you getting your financial aid package as well.
Make sure that you get online and start working on your FAFSA form as early as you can. You want to make sure that it’s in fast and that you have everything done properly or you could end up with problems later on. Just make sure you gather everything you need before you sit down to fill it out, including your FSA ID and your parents tax information.