FAFSA Mistakes That Can Cost You Money: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help you pay for school. But there are some common mistakes that can cost you thousands of dollars. Here are 9 FAFSA mistakes to avoid if you want to get the most money possible out of your student aid award. And 9 helpful tips to keep in mind when filling out your FAFSA application, so you can make the most of your award.
How much money do you get from the federal government when you’re going to college. Can depend greatly on how well you fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Unfortunately, the questions are sometimes confusing and there are mistakes that many students make without realizing it. This article explains 9 common FAFSA mistakes to watch out for. And avoid so that you don’t lose out on thousands of dollars in potential aid and student loans.
FAFSA Mistakes That Can Cost You Money: 9 Common Mistakes to Avoid
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has become a staple of the college application process in recent years, and it’s not just students who should care about filling it out correctly. Parents need to fill out the FAFSA on their own as well, since there are mistakes that can impact your family’s financial aid eligibility, and these mistakes can cost you money in the long run.
What is FAFSA?
FAFSA is an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a form filled out by students (and parents, if you’re a dependent student) who are in college or hoping to attend college. Its purpose is to collect information about your family’s income and assets so that you can apply for need-based aid like grants, loans, and work-study programs. FAFSA is typically only necessary if you’re attending school on at least a half-time basis.
The FAFSA website has detailed instructions for filling out each section of the form, so read through those carefully. If you have additional questions about filling out your particular situation, contact your school’s financial aid office directly. In addition to applying for federal student aid, it’s also wise to take a look at your school’s scholarships as well; many will ask you to fill out a FAFSA application. Some schools also require you to submit an additional scholarship application in order to be considered.
Here are some of the most common FAFSA mistakes parents should avoid:
1) Not Being Eligible
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when filling out your FAFSA is not being eligible for federal aid. FAFSA’s website says that you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, and have a valid Social Security number in order to be eligible for aid from any federal program that uses Title IV money. Failure to be eligible can potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. If you get rejected by a college based on missing documents, check with that school before appealing; there might not even be an appeal process.
2) Forgetting the Paperwork
When filing your FAFSA, it’s easy to get caught up in filling out that online form. But don’t forget about all of those other forms and documents required as part of your FAFSA application. These include: Signed copies of both parents’ federal tax returns for each year you were in high school; W-2 forms for each parent; Parental investment records, like a trust document or K-1 tax form; A signed copy of your divorce decree (if applicable); A signed loan document if you are applying for student loans and/or a promissory note from any scholarships you receive (assuming they’re need-based)
3) Not Understanding Financial Need
Financial need is different from your budget. It isn’t based on how much you can afford to pay for college, but on how much college costs and how much aid you qualify for. Financial need is calculated by subtracting your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) from tuition, fees, room and board, books, and supplies. For example, if tuition and fees total $35,000 at a particular school and your EFC is $5,000 per year ($25,000 total), then your financial need would be $30,000.
4) Making Inaccurate Income Estimates
It’s no secret that income is a key factor in determining your ability to qualify for financial aid. However, estimating your family’s financial future can be difficult if you don’t know what’s coming up or haven’t had enough time for life events, such as moving into a new house or returning from military service, to settle down. Although it’s tempting to simply plug your current numbers into an online calculator and call it a day, doing so could result in getting less money than you need—and perhaps not enough money at all. Over-estimating how much you make can result in too little being disbursed; under-estimating means missing out on other federal grants and scholarships that may depend on how much you bring home every year.
5) Not including other students in your household
To be eligible for federal student aid, all of your children must be included in your FAFSA. If you’re married and file taxes jointly, that means any information on your FAFSA should also be reported on your spouse’s FAFSA. This is true even if only one of you is enrolled in college (and thus, one of you is going to claim a dependency exemption). If you have other dependent children that aren’t going to college, don’t forget to include them on your FAFSA as well—even if they no longer live with you. Remember that certain forms of financial aid—such as work-study—can only go toward students who are under 24 years old.
6) Taking Too Long to Complete the Process
Filing for financial aid shouldn’t be an onerous task. But many families make it one by getting overwhelmed and frustrated during application season. If you’re just starting college or considering transferring. Time is of the essence—which is why you need to start your FAFSA as soon as possible. The form can take 30 minutes or more to complete, so do yourself a favor and get started right away—even if you’re not 100 percent sure how much financial aid you qualify for.
7) Including your parent’s income when you don’t have to
Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). If your parent’s income is below a certain level. If you’re not sure whether or not you need to report your parents’ income. Start by reviewing the two factors listed on your FAFSA. First, does it include one of these phrases? Parent/stepparent name OR Spouse/step-parent name. If so, that means you’ll have to report their income and assets. Second, did your parents file a tax return using either their social security number or individual taxpayer identification number? If so, they must also fill out financial aid forms if they make more than $50,000 annually — whether they’re helping with college costs or not.
8) Not Completing the Application Quickly Enough
If you miss filing deadlines, you could lose out on grants or other forms of financial aid. Plus, if you wait too long, information may become outdated (i.e., your parent’s income may have changed from last year). If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know where to start. One simple trick is to pretend that a family member has told you they need a tax return completed immediately. Would it be done on time? Could some information be missing? What about your references? Filing for financial aid should feel like an obligation, not a choice—so make sure it doesn’t take over your life.
9. Forgetting to sign your FAFSA
When filling out your FAFSA, it’s important that you fill in all of your personal information and sign your form. The problem is, that many people don’t realize that they need to sign their FAFSA or that they even have a signature line. By simply signing your FAFSA, you could be eligible for an extra $2,000 in grant money from Uncle Sam—money that won’t just help cover school costs but can be used toward paying down student loans. Make sure you carefully review your application and make sure everything is filled out correctly; always remember to sign before submitting!
The financial aid application process can be complicated, but it’s easy to avoid common mistakes. Keep in mind that you aren’t eligible for every dollar available and you have time to complete your FAFSA after January 1st. If you plan ahead and avoid these common mistakes, you’ll be more likely to achieve your college dreams. Good luck!
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