Making a mistake on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) is a common occurrence. Actually, multiple mistakes on the FAFSA are commonplace. These mistakes can be costly. At the very least they can delay your application while your mistakes are getting corrected. Meanwhile, financial aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. So any delay is not in your favor.
Some of the most common mistakes include information related to taxes, Social Security Numbers, marital status, and assets. Use the following tips to avoiding making these errors.
1. Do not leave answers blank.
Leaving blank answers can cause miscalculations or a rejection of the entire application. Instead of leaving a question blank, enter zero (0) or “not applicable.”
2. Do not include retirement assets.
While the FAFSA does ask for the current amount of cash, savings, and checking accounts for both students and parents, do not mistake this for anything like an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts.
3. Double-check the income tax figure.
The question on the FAFSA refers to the amount of Federal income tax paid or will be paid on the 2012 tax return, not the tax withholdings from W-2 forms.
4. Use the most current marital status.
Students and parents should select the correct category for marital status as it legally stands on the day the application is signed.
5. Enter accurate education level for parents.
Do not inflate the education level of parents on the FAFSA, as many schools actually consider first-generation college students more favorably.
6. Be sure to list colleges.
This area of the form is how application processors know where to send the data. For each school to which the student is applying, enter the college’s Federal School Code. The FAFSA allows up to ten on the initial form. Additional schools can be added later.
7. Check all Social Security Numbers several times.
One of the biggest reasons for rejected applications is a mistake entering Social Security Numbers for either the applicant or parents. These numbers must be accurate and match the exact names listed on the form.
8. Estimate before 2012 taxes are filed.
Some schools will start requesting completion of this form almost immediately after January 1st. If taxes haven’t been filed, it is advised to use estimates that can be corrected after taxes are complete.