Fix These Mistakes Before Filing the FAFSA
Mistakes Lead to Delays and Could Cost You Money!
January brings not just snow and cold but also a frenzied rush to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If completed properly and submitted on time the FAFSA can open the door to federal, state and institutional financial aid. If you have done your homework to research the FAFSA requirements and collected the necessary documents, it should be a pretty straight-forward process.
Unfortunately, in the mad rush to just get this final piece of the college puzzle put into place, parents and students make errors. Some are basic and might only result in a delay in processing the application, but others can be major and could result in the student not receiving the full amount of financial aid to which he or she is entitled.
Some Common FAFSA Errors
- Accidental Errors: This could be something as seemingly minor as using the wrong form of your name or skipping a field that you think doesn’t apply to you. Use the name that is on your Social Security card - no nicknames or different spellings. Fill in every question, even if the answer is “zero.” Follow instructions carefully in order to determine household size and dependency status.
- Intentional Errors: Some families make misleading statements in the belief that they will be able to qualify for more financial aid. In some cases, this may even work, but they will have to keep up the ruse for the entire time their child is in college. In other cases, however, their application might be selected for a process called verification. Some colleges do this with all applications, while others only verify a random sample, but the process requires you to document any claims you have made. It could severely impact your student’s financial aid eligibility status if it is found that substantive errors were made.
- Underreporting Income: The FAFSA requires information about all sources of taxed and untaxed income. Payments such as Social Security, veterans’ benefits, disability payments, child support, and alimony must all be included.
- Misreporting Income Tax: Income and income tax are two different concepts. The amount of income tax paid is usually substantially less than the Adjusted Gross Income reported. Also be sure to report the total income tax paid, not just the amount withheld from any paychecks.
- Omitting a Stepparent: If the parents have divorced and the student lives with a parent who has subsequently remarried, financial information must be reported for that stepparent.
- Skipping the Signature: If you are filing a print version of the FAFSA, the student and parents must be sure to sign it manually. For those filing the online version, the student and parents must sign the FAFSA using their FSA IDs.
Above all, do not miss any deadlines. Some states have deadlines as early as February, which could add more pressure to the process. File on time even if you have to use estimated income figures, and then go back and make revisions once your tax returns are complete.
If you do submit your application and then discover that you have made an error, there are certain types of information which can be changed. Most information must be accurate as of the date the FAFSA was submitted, and you cannot change your Social Security number, but you can revise details such as contact information. If your situation has changed dramatically, contact the financial aid office at the college and ask for assistance.