Common Mistakes Families Make on the FAFSA
If you're filling out the FAFSA this year, you'll want to make sure you do it correctly. Entering in wrong information (or putting the right information in the wrong places) can significantly impact the financial aid you receive from colleges and universities. We compiled some of the most popular errors made on the FAFSA by students and families. Review this list in order to avoid these common mistakes when you complete the application.
Missing a school's deadline
It's so important to submit your FAFSA by the deadline set by each college and university. The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1st, so it's really best to submit the FAFSA as soon after October 1st as you can. By doing so, you'll be sure to meet each school's deadline, and, if any school distributes financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, you'll be at the front of the line for any available funding.
Putting parent info in the student section
You'll need to provide financial information for both the student and the parent(s) on the FAFSA. Be sure to read your instructions carefully and put the correct information into each field. Reporting parent financial information in the student section by mistake will make the student look far wealthier that is actually the case, and will likely significantly lower your family's eligibility for financial aid.
Using a nickname
Don't use a nickname on the FAFSA. Enter the student's full official name as it appears on his or her Social Security card. If you use a nickname, the Department of Education will mark your FAFSA with an error flag, and you'll need to correct the name before the student can receive any financial aid.
Forgetting to add schools
When you initially complete the FAFSA, you may not have finalized your college list. If you decide to apply to a college after you submit your FAFSA, remember to log in to your FAFSA and add that school to your list of colleges. If you already have 10 college listed, you can always delete a school from your FAFSA list (as long as you've already submitted your FAFSA info to that school) and add the names of the new schools.
Incorrectly reporting taxable grants and scholarships
The FAFSA will ask your family to report any taxable grants and scholarships that you reported as income to the IRS. Most of any of the grants and scholarships that the student received do not fall into this category, as only those grants and scholarships that exceed a certain amount are actually reported as income on your tax return. Only report any grant and scholarship information that you reported as a part of your income in the appropriate tax year.
Leaving college-going siblings out of the household size
If the student has an older sibling in college, and that sibling is still supported financially by the parents, and will continue to be in the upcoming academic year, make sure to include that sibling in the household size, even if he or she lives away at school instead of at home with the family.
Using the wrong Social Security number
Double check that you've used the correct SSN for the student. Providing an incorrect number will lead to a FAFSA error and will hold up the student receiving any financial aid.
Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) will allow you to pull tax return data into the FAFSA automatically from the IRS website. It will speed up the time it takes you to complete the FAFSA and help you avoid errors related to providing your income information. If you're offered the opportunity to use the IRS DRT within the FAFSA, take it.
If you'd like more information about completing the FAFSA, watch our Understanding the FAFSA Webinar. It provides a step-by-step overview of filling in the application, and offers tips and resources to help you through the process. The webinar is available for viewing on our website anytime.