FAFSA Secrets: 7 Secrets to Filling out the FAFSA - and Mistakes to Avoid
by Dean Tsouvalas | StudentAdvisor.com
FAFSA is on the lips of students (and parents) who want to pursue higher education. As the FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the best way you can get a financial aid package. Now that we’ve past college and university application deadlines, it's time to start applying for financial aid to help fund your education. Even if you don’t think you are qualified you must fill out the FAFSA – many colleges use it as a baseline for all forms of scholarships and financial aid. Follow these simple tips and they will help you avoid some of the most common FAFSA mistakes.
1. Fill out the FAFSA even if you don’t think you will qualify. It all starts with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
We found it shocking that one study showed that more than half of families did not bother applying for aid through the FAFSA leaving millions on the table. Colleges use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for government funded financial aid, like grants and federal student loans. Schools will also determine if you qualify for need-based scholarships based on your FAFSA score. You can determine this all online at FAFSA.gov.
2. Before you hit the send button, take time and proof read the FAFSA three times to avoid these common mistakes.
- Listing incorrect social security number or driver’s license number
- Leaving blank fields – enter a ‘0′ or ‘not applicable’ instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
- Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields – always round to the nearest dollar.
- Listing marital status incorrectly – only write ‘yes’ if you are currently married. They want to know what your marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA or renewal FAFSA.
- Listing parent marital status incorrectly – the custodial parent’s marital status is required; if they’ve remarried, you’ll need the stepparent’s information too.
- Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank. If you’re unsure about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA instead of leaving it blank. A conviction doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
- Forgetting to list the college. Obtain the Federal School Code for the college, you plan on attending and list it, along with any other schools to which you’ve applied.
- Forgetting to sign and date. If you’re filling out the paper FAFSA, be sure to sign it. If you’re filing electronically, be sure to obtain your PIN from www.pin.ed.gov. Your PIN is your electronic signature and will always be assigned to you only.
Looking for FAFSA Deadlines?
2013-2014 FAFSA Deadlines on StudentAdvisor.
3. On the day you file your FAFSA make sure you have as little cash in checking, savings and other cash-equivalents accounts as possible.
The final set of questions on your FAFSA will ask about the money you have on hand. Make sure that you and your student have as little money as possible in checking, savings and other cash-equivalents the day you file the paperwork. It also helps to pay off as many bills as possible before filing the paperwork.
4. A student should always file a tax return, even if he or she is not making any money.
A tax return that says $0 can actually work in his or her favor, as it demonstrates need.
5. Grades have little to do with financial aid awards.
Many parents assume their child must have good grades to qualify for grants and scholarships. This is inaccurate. Most colleges award a majority of their grants based on financial need, not merit. Merit scholarships comprise less than 2 percent of the total “pot.” The big money - more than 98 percent - is in the need-based financial aid system.
For more FAFSA advice, check out StudentAdvisor's free FAFSA guide!
6. Don’t wait on acceptance letters before applying for financial aid.
Financial aid is on a first come, first serve basis. You don’t need to be accepted to a college before you can submit your FAFSA – you only need to list which schools to which you have applied. Typically, for first year students, colleges mail their financial aid reward statuses to students a few months after the application deadline to accepted students.
7. Compare financial aid packages from different schools carefully.
Do not be afraid to read between the lines on financial aid reward letters. It’s not uncommon for “expensive” private colleges to offer better financial aid packages than state schools. Examine the gap (if there is one) between the financial aid package and the cost of attendance for each school to see how well the package meets your need. Break down how much money is coming from grants, federal loans, scholarships, and work-study. Grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back. Work-study money must be earned through part time employment during the school year and students must pay taxes on it. Loans need to be paid back and different families can take on different amounts of debt. Remember – federal loans are less expensive and have more benefits than private loans.
You must fill out a FAFSA every year you are in school, but if you apply online, you can re-use your FAFSA-on-the-Web PIN each year you apply for federal financial aid.
Make sure you fill in every year for every child you have in college starting in January of their SENIOR year in high school to ensure you have a chance at receiving the most aid.