Are you ready to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? Because the government and colleges give aid on a first come, first serve basis, it’s important to submit as early as possible.
Unfortunately, a single (seemingly harmless) mistake on your FAFSA can delay processing for weeks, moving your application behind the countless others that were submitted correctly. The good news: Youu can take steps to prevent those mistakes from happening!
Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid when completing the FAFSA:
- Leaving a field blank. Many people see a question that doesn’t apply to them and mistakenly leave it blank. Instead, write in a “0” or “not applicable” so the processor doesn’t assume you forgot to answer and reject the application.
- Entering the wrong tax amount. Do not use the information from your W-2. Instead, refer to you 1040 federal tax return to report income and taxes paid. Remember you should fill out the FAFSA before you file taxes using an estimate, but you need to get in there and update it with the correct numbers once your taxes are complete.
- Reporting incorrect marital status. Although you may be engaged, if you aren’t legally married on the day you file, list your marital status as single.
- Reporting incorrect parent information. The parent you lived with for most of the year is the one to fill out the FAFSA, so make sure you include information for the right parent. If your primary guardian remarried, you’ll need to include requested information about your stepparent as well.
- Forgetting to sign the application. It might sound simple, but a lot of people forget this important step. If you’re filing as a dependent, both you and your parents need to sign the application. If you’re filing online, you can sign electronically using PIN numbers (you can get them from http://www.pin.ed.gov).
- Filing late. Procrastinating leads to missed opportunities for aid. Remember to stay on top of deadlines, and because it’s first-come, first-serve, get your FAFSA in as soon as possible.
- Providing too much information. You don’t need to include information about retirement accounts and home equity. If you include this information on your application, your chances for aid will shrink, so leave them off. NOTE: The FAFSA does ask about second homes and real estate investments, so you’ll need to provide details about those if applicable.
- Listing just one school. List every school to which you’ve applied or are planning to apply so you don’t miss deadlines at any of the colleges you’re considering.
- Not filing at all. There is no reason not to file the FAFSA. Even if you think you make too much money, you might be surprised, and it doesn’t hurt at all. Simply by completing the application you will be eligible for Stafford government student loans. Some non-citizens qualify for federal and college financial aid, too, so don’t use your citizenship status as a reason not to file.
- Not following directions or getting help. As with any form, read the directions carefully. If you aren’t sure about a question, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA Web site or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED AID (1-800-433-3243). You also can take advantage of the government’s online chat sessions by using FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help from Monday through Saturday. Of course, I’m happy to answer any questions you have as well. Feel free to contact me via phone or email!
Photo Credit: Terrance Heath