If you’re counting on financial aid to help with college costs, you already know you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine your eligibility. What you may not know is that common FAFSA mistakes can lead to some costly consequences, including processing delays and receiving less aid than you’re entitled to. Avoid these FAFSA mistakes by preparing in advance.
FAFSA Mistakes Can Delay the Processing of Your Application
Small errors can easily add up and prolong the time it takes to determine your eligibility for aid. Here’s what to look out for:
Confusing Student and Parent Information
When the FAFSA asks for information about “you,” it means the student, not your parents. Complete the FAFSA yourself. You can do it! Your parent can watch you and help as needed.
Failing to Sign Your Application
Make sure both you and your parents sign the FAFSA. To do so, you’ll need to create an FSA ID (which serves as your legal digital signature). Your parent must also create their own FSA ID to sign your FAFSA. Make sure you request one early – it can take up to three days to process your request.
Under-reporting Parent Income
If the parent you live with has remarried, you are required to report the income for your stepparent on the FAFSA. Not reporting this income can cause your financial aid eligibility to be incorrect.
Not Filling in Blanks
Don’t leave any fields empty on the application. If the answer to the question is zero, enter “0.”
Not Counting Yourself
When asked about your household size, don’t forget to include yourself, even if you didn’t live with your parents last year.
FAFSA Mistakes That Can Affect the Amount of Aid You Receive
Don’t miss out on a single dollar! Every little bit helps to cover the cost of college and avoid debt. The most frequent mistakes that affect your total aid include:
Not Filing the FAFSA
Believe it or not, every year millions of students lose out on thousands of aid dollars by not completing the FAFSA. Many mistakenly assume that they won’t qualify for aid because their families make too much money. The truth: There is no income cap for financial aid, and numerous factors are considered when determining your eligibility.
The FAFSA is also the application for Federal Work-Study funding, federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by many states, schools, and private organizations. You won’t know what you’re eligible for unless you complete the application.
Not Applying Early
A significant amount of financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you submit the FAFSA the better. For the 2019-2020 school year, the earliest you can submit the FAFSA is October 1, 2018. Don’t delay – when the money is gone, it’s gone.
If you heeded our advice to file the FAFSA as early as possible, this one shouldn’t be a problem. Make sure to check with the school(s) you are applying to in order to see if they have their own deadline for filing the FAFSA. Meeting these institution specific deadlines often determine if you will be able to receive grant and work study funds that are limited.
If not, you definitely don’t want to miss the final FAFSA filing deadline of June 30, 2019. Doing so will disqualify you from receiving any aid for the 2019-20 school year.
Overstating Income and Assets
Only list relevant sources of income such as salaries, child support, and workers’ compensation. Do not include items such as qualified retirement accounts (401(k), 403(b), and IRA) and the value of your home, as it may reduce the amount of aid you receive.
Doctoring the Numbers
It goes without saying that lying about your income and assets on the FAFSA is never a good idea. In fact, it’s fraud. You could be fined up to $20,000, sentenced to up to five years in jail, be required to repay all the federal aid you received, and get kicked out of school. It’s just not worth it.
Incorrectly Reporting Dependency Status
If you are a high school senior, you are likely a “dependent” student for purposes of the FAFSA, but there are exceptions. If you’re unsure, check the dependency guidelines before answering this question.
Good Practices to Help You Avoid FAFSA Mistakes
While there are myriad ways to slip up on the FAFSA, there are some tips to help:
Ensure You’re Using the Correct Website
There are a lot of scammers out there. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re using the official FAFSA website to apply for aid: fafsa.gov. Otherwise, you may end up paying to submit the application when it should be free, or your information may not be submitted to the correct parties.
Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
You can save yourself some legwork and avoid mistakes by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import your family’s tax information into the FAFSA. It’s faster and more accurate than entering your information by hand.
Read Directions and Check Your Work
Before you file the FAFSA, review it a few times to ensure all of your information is correct and that you’ve followed all directions. Be sure to have your parents review it as well. If you have questions about anything, you can contact the Department of Education directly to get answers. It’s better to have all your ducks in a row BEFORE filing.
Want more information about applying for financial aid at USF? Visit the University Scholarships and Financial Aid Services website, or contact financial aid at 813-974-4700.
About Dameion Lovett
Dameion Lovett is the Campus Director of Financial Aid at USF Tampa. He also directs the campus financial education program known as Bull2Bull. He has two decades of financial aid experience.