Considering your FAFSA application will ultimately impact the amount of financial assistance you may receive, it is crucial to make sure that it is filled carefully, correctly and completely.
If there are mistakes or missing information, your child may not get the complete financial assistance that they are entitled to. Make sure to avoid these common pitfalls so your child does not lose out on the many benefits of a correctly submitted FAFSA.
1. Not completing FAFSA or not finishing by the deadline
Even if you think you earn above the minimum amount for your child to qualify for grants, you should still complete the FAFSA. Your child may still qualify for low-interest or subsidized loans, scholarships, or work-study. Remember, there is no income cutoff for the FAFSA, so you have nothing to lose by applying.
You can usually apply for state aid through the FAFSA as well. Over 2 million students miss out on aid each year because they do not apply. In addition to completely filling out the FAFSA, you should also submit it as soon as possible.
Some colleges and most states have deadlines that are much earlier than the federal deadline. If possible, submit FAFSA by the spring before your child starts college, at the latest. For the 2018-2019 school year, FAFSA is available starting October 1, 2017. If you were late in filling out FAFSA for this year, make sure you are get everything ready well in advance next time so your child may get a better financial aid package.
2. Submitting Incorrect or Incomplete Financial Information
In order for the FAFSA to be processed, it must be filled out completely and correctly. Although this may seem like common sense, thousands of applications are rejected each year because of missing or incorrect information.
Additionally, the tax data used to complete FAFSA has changed for the 2017-2018 school year. Now, data from 2015 is used. For the 2018-2019 school year, data from 2016 will be used. While this may seem like it makes the process even more confusing, it is meant to make it easier. Now, parents no longer have to estimate their income for FAFSA. Instead, their tax information will already be available. Also remember you are providing your total income liability, not your adjusted gross income (AGI).
If you and your child’s other parent do not live together, the custodial parent is the one that provides financial information. The custodial parent is the parent with whom the student lives with most of the time and who provides the majority of support. If the custodial parent has remarried, the stepparent must provide their information as well. If you cohabitate with the other parent of your child, you both must provide your information, regardless of whether you are married.
3. Filling Out the Fields Incorrectly or Leaving Them Blank
Before you turn in the application, go back and make sure all the basic information like name, address, and social security number is correct. Also, check to see that all the information is in the correct fields. For example, make sure you did not write your name where your child’s name should be.
If you apply online, you can choose to retrieve most of this data from the IRS and it will automatically put everything in the correct field. You will have the opportunity to edit this information, but if you leave it as-is, your application is less likely to be verified (kind of like an audit).
Leaving lots of fields blank can delay the processing of your information. Instead of leaving the field blank, write 0 or “N/A” if the question does not apply. Last but not least, double-check to see that you, your partner if applicable, and your child have all signed the application.
4. Saying No to Some Types of Aid
Of course you are hoping your child will get grant and scholarship offers, but don’t overlook other types of aid. For example, the FAFSA will ask if your child is interested in work-study opportunities. Answering no to this question will exclude your child from any work-study jobs, which is how many colleges hire their employees.
Additionally, refusing some kinds of aid does not make your child more likely to receive a grant. If they meet the requirements, they will still receive grants regardless of other factors.
Be open to all aid options. Expressing interest does not mean you have to accept all the aid your child is offered. For instance, if you are offered a loan, you are in no way obligated to take it. In the likely event that your child is offered multiple types of aid, you can choose whichever ones you and your child want and decline the others. Accepting or declining any aid offers does not impact any other aspect of financial aid or college admissions.
5. Only Adding One College
Although most types of federal aid will be offered no matter which college your child attends, different colleges offer their own varying types and amounts of aid. On the FAFSA application, your child can add up to 10 colleges to receive the results. Even if your child has their heart set on one school, it is a good idea to add some other comparable colleges to see what type of aid is offered. If a similar college is offering a significantly larger aid package, it may be worth considering.
Now that you know what to look out for, you are ready to tackle the FAFSA. If possible, you may want to apply online as it simplifies the process and reduces the chance of error. Just remember to apply early, add at least a few colleges, fill the form out completely, make sure all your financial information is correct, and be open to considering all types of aid. You may be pleasantly surprised at the aid package your child is offered.
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