The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form used by the federal government, state governments, and most colleges or universities to determine financial aid eligibility. Current and prospective college students can fill out the form annually, and how you file the FAFSA may affect how much money you get and the types of financial aid you’re eligible for.
When filling out the FAFSA, even the smallest error can cause a headache for you, or even worse, result in lost eligibility. To help you fill out the form properly and maximize your aid eligibility, avoid these ten common errors.
Top Ten Most Common FAFSA Errors to Avoid
1. Failing to file the FAFSA
You can’t get money if you don’t apply.
2. Filing the wrong year’s FAFSA
Make sure you don’t file last year’s FAFSA instead of this year’s FAFSA.
3. Missing financial aid deadlines
If you file the FAFSA late, you may miss out on some financial aid.
4. Digit transpositions
Exchanging adjacent numbers or inserting an extra digit can have a big impact on aid eligibility. Cents are not reported on the FAFSA, so don’t provide them, or the FAFSA might read them as dollars.
5. Using the wrong Social Security Number (SSN) or date of birth
Surprisingly, applicants often make errors involving SSN, such as swapping the student and parent SSNs or swapping the student’s SSN with that of a sibling. It is also not uncommon for an applicant to wrongly enter the year they were born. Also, do not substitute your middle name or nickname for your first name.
6. Errors in student or parent marital status
You must report marital status as of the date the FAFSA is filed. You cannot anticipate a future change in status.
7. Reporting the wrong parent’s financial information (if parents are divorced)
It is generally beneficial to have the parent with the lower income complete the FAFSA.
8. Failing to report the stepparent’s income and assets (if custodial parent has remarried) or to count stepchildren in household size and number in college
Stepparent income and assets must be reported, even if there is a prenuptial agreement. This can reduce aid eligibility. But, if the stepparent has children from a previous marriage, it can increase aid eligibility. The stepparent can count them in household size if they claim an exemption for them on their federal income tax return.
9. Reporting wrong tax filing status (e.g., head of household)
Certain tax filing statuses are error-prone, especially head of household status. Just because a tax filing status will result in a lower tax liability doesn’t mean you are entitled to use it.
10. Reporting retirement plans and the net worth of the family home as investments
The FAFSA instructions concerning investments are confusing. But, even though qualified retirement plans and the family home are investments, they are not reported as investments on the FAFSA.
For more information on the FAFSA, check out “What’s the FAFSA and why is it important?”