6 Common FAFSA® Mistakes

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1. Not Completing the FAFSA®

Many people incorrectly assume they are not eligible for aid. In fact, there are very few things that make you ineligible for federal student aid. 

The FAFSA is not just the application for federal grants such as the Pell Grant. It’s also the application for work-study funds, low-interest federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by your state, school, or private organization. If you don’t complete the FAFSA®, you could lose out on thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA® takes little time to complete, and we offer help throughout the application.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.

2. Waiting to Fill Out the FAFSA®

Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and some states and colleges run out of money early, so even if your deadlines aren’t for a while, get your FAFSA® done ASAP.

3. Not Filing by the Deadline

Each state and school sets its own deadline. Some priority deadlines will be earlier this year because the FAFSA® is available earlier. To maximize the amount of your financial aid, fill out your FAFSA® (and any other financial aid applications that may be required by your state or school) by your earliest deadline, if not sooner!

4. Not Reading Definitions Carefully

When it comes to completing the FAFSA®, you want to read each definition and question carefully, because sometimes, how the FAFSA® wants you to answer certain questions is not how you’d intuitively answer the question.

Here are some items that have very specific (but not intuitive) definitions according to the FAFSA®:

  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA® asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.
  • Parent: The FAFSA® has very specific guidelines for which parent(s) need to be reported on the FAFSA®. (Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with who claims you on their taxes.)
  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA® has a specific definition of how your or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number, especially when the student doesn’t physically live with the parent.
  • Number of Family Members in College: Enter the number of people in your (or your parents’) household who will attend college at the same time you attend college. Don’t forget to include yourself. Do not include your parents in this number. This number should never be greater than your number of family members.

5. Inputting Incorrect Information

Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Confusing Parent and Student Information: I know there are many parents out there who fill out the FAFSA® for their child, but remember, the FAFSA® is the student’s application. When the FAFSA® says “you” or “your”, it’s referring to the student, so make sure to enter your (the student’s) information. If we are asking for your parent’s information, we will specify that in the question.
  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA® because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on your Social Security card. No nicknames.
  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs®, we cross-check your Social Security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple-check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have an SSN, follow these instructions.
  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Here, we are asking for your assessed income tax liability, not the amount of income tax withheld, and not your adjusted gross income (AGI). I know this is complicated. To make it simple, use this to find out which tax line number you should refer to when answering this question. (Note: It depends on which IRS form you filed.)

6. Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, and file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA®. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA® are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

If you’re considered a dependent student and don’t provide parent information, your FAFSA® may not be processed, you may not receive an EFC and/or you may only qualify for unsubsidized loans.