In January, more than 20 million students will file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and many will submit applications with mistakes. Simple errors can delay or even derail your chances of receiving financial aid, not only at the federal level, but also at the state level and at prospective colleges. To ensure you receive the most aid possible, be sure to avoid these common FAFSA mistakes.
1. Failing to Submit the Form
Don’t assume your family’s income is too high to qualify for financial aid. Even if your family has substantial earnings, it is always a good idea to submit the FAFSA. If you do not qualify for a Pell Grant, you may still receive low-interest federal student loan offers or grants/scholarships from your state or college financial aid office.
2. Submitting the Wrong Information
The FAFSA should always be completed from the student’s perspective. Anywhere on the form that mentions ‘you’ or ‘yours’ is referring to your information, not your parent’s. Be sure you enter the appropriate response to avoid having your form delayed or rejected.
3. Using Incorrect Parental Income
If your parents are divorced, you should include information from the parent you live with for the majority of the year. Do not select the parent with the lowest income, unless he/she provides the majority of support or you live with him/her for more than six months a year. If you reside with a step-parent, his/her information will need to be included, as well. Beginning this year, if your parents are unmarried but living together, or you are the child of a gay or lesbian couple, you will need to list both parents when applying for federal financial aid.
4. Listing Exempt Assets
Be careful not to list assets that are not considered income for FAFSA purposes. The equity in your parent’s primary residence or their retirement assets need not be included as income. Including exempt assets can increase your family’s expected contribution and reduce the amount of financial aid offered.
5. Completing the Wrong Form
If you need financial aid for the 2014 fall semester and 2015 spring semester, you will need to complete the 2014-2015 FAFSA, not the 2013-2014 FAFSA. You will only need to complete the 2013-2014 form if you only plan to attend college this January or this upcoming summer.
The FAFSA is your gateway to college financial aid. Be sure to review the form for errors, do not leave any blank spaces and sign your form before submitting the final draft. Even something as simple as a blank line could delay your financial aid for weeks. It is also important to file as early as possible, as many colleges award scholarships and other aid on a first-come, first-served basis. If you find you still need additional financial aid after completing the FAFSA, don’t forget to check into private scholarships. You can find many online, using one of the free scholarship search services, such as ScholarshipExperts.com.
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