Filling the FAFSA requires the applicant or his/her parents provide a wide range of information. Therefore, it is obvious that the errors are commonly associated with the FAFSA.
It is important to understand the common errors made by the applicants while filing the FAFSA.
The following FAFSA errors need to be avoided-
COMMON FAFSA ERRORS
- Most students or their parents are under confident- Hence they find the FAFSA complicated and don’t file the FAFSA at all.
- Most applicants make the mistake of leaving the information section blank, if the question is not applicable, then the applicants are required to enter “0”
- Most of the times, the parent of a dependent student or the spouse of an independent student forget to sign the FAFSA.
- Some students or their parents get complacent and feel they have enough contacts and they can convince the schools without the help of the FAFSA.
- Some Applicants are not careful while writing the figures and add an extra 0. A figure of $50,000 instead of $5,000 can significantly affect your Expected Family Contribution.
- Avoid typos while mentioning the figures- Most students make the common mistake of wrongly typing the digits. Like- 21 is entered as 12.
- Applicants should get everything ready within the stipulated time frame, and avoid missing deadlines, as the FAFSA is particularly strict with deadlines.
- Applicants make the mistake of using points or commas while denoting the money. Remember, dollars should be rounded up, and cents should not be included.
- Filing the FAFSA for the wrong year- The FAFSA may be available for two academic years in one particular time point. Make sure you file the right FAFSA for the right year.
DATA RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- While filling the FAFSA people often make the error of mentioning a tax figure that includes the total sum of all their taxes, but the FAFSA only requires the federal tax information. You are not required to include other taxes like self-employment tax, income tax refund amount etc.
- When it comes to address, a student needs to mention his/her own permanent address, not the current temporary address. The mentioned address must be the same address that is mentioned in the document of federal income tax returns.
- As mentioned before, the name of the student or the parents must match the name mentioned in their respective Social Security card. In case the legal name is not updated, the concerned person is required to contact with the Social Security Administration.
Note- Never make the mistake of using your nickname, or just the name.
- The FAFSA always asks the last names first. Most students make the mistake of writing their first name in place of the last name.
- While filling the FAFSA, many students make the mistake of filling their Date of Birth in an incorrect order. You are required to follow the order MM/DD/YYYY.
- Your citizenship status is very important for the FAFSA. Sometimes, the applicants from other countries, who became the citizens of the United States recently, forget to update their citizenship status by contacting the Social Security Administration.
TAX RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- Reporting your adjusted gross income in the field of federal income tax leads to an error in the FAFSA
- In some cases, the head of the family is incorrectly reported. This often delays the duration of FAFSA process, and the financial help is not disbursed in time.
- As discussed previously, the FAFSA only wants you to report the federal income tax. Applicants often make the mistake of reporting the total taxes, that includes self- employment taxes and other taxes. Similarly, they are not required to include taxes withheld on the W-2 form, or the income tax refund amount.
- If the applicants have not yet filed the federal income tax, they have to report the total tax for the previous year. Thus, the information presented on the FAFSA may not be as accurate. However, if the Adjusted Gross income is more or less similar to that of the previous year, then there won’t be any significant variation.
- The IRS 1040 filers, who are eligible to file IRS form 1040A or 1040EZ, but have not done so for some reason, should go through the sections of the FAFSA involving the questions related to IRS form 1040A and IRS form 1040EZ.
INCOME RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- The income earned from work does not match with the earned income tax credit.
- Applicants often confuse with the supplemental security income (SSI), and consider it same as social security disability insurance (SSDI).
- At times the employer’s contribution is shown while reporting the qualified retirement plans.
- The adjusted gross income and the income earned from work are entirely different, because the calculating the adjusted gross income adds unearned income and subtracts various exclusions. Most applicants make an error when they mention the same figure for the adjusted gross income and income earned from work.
- Applicants should report the income that is based on the tax year, but most applicants make the mistake of reporting the income for the academic year.
ASSET RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- The updated value of the assets should be reported as of the date the FAFSA is filed, not at the end of the calendar year.
- The FAFSA will ask questions related to the net worth of your investments. Applicants are not required to report the net worth of their legal family residence, and the qualified retirement plans.
- Applicants should not report the rental properties as business assets, because they are normally reported as investment assets. However, if the properties are used for business purposes, they can be reported as business assets.
- and if the custodial parent has “remarried”, then his/her status should be checked as “Married” not “Divorced or Separated.”
- Applicants make the mistake of not counting their stepparent in the household size. As mentioned before, certain information regarding the stepparent like income, assets must be included on the FAFSA, and he/she should be counted as a member of the household.
- When questions, inquire about the information related to the parents, there should be no confusion regarding the marital status of the parents. The information of the custodial parent filling the FAFSA must be included,
- If somebody other than the custodial parent like, uncle, aunt, grandparent or even the non-custodial parent is the owner of the college saving plan, then instead of reporting it as an asset, you have to report it as an untaxed income to the beneficiary on the FAFSA.
- In case, the custodial parent of the student is the owner of the savings account, then the College savings plans of both the student and his/her siblings are reported in the asset section. The 529 College Savings Plans, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, and Prepaid Tuition Plans come under this.
- In some cases, the assets of the student are required to be reported. For example- if an applicant qualifies for the simplified needs test, then he/she should consult the colleges, because some colleges or states require the information of assets while determining the eligibility of an applicant for state aid or institutional aid funds.
- The applicants while filling the FAFSA must note that the assets should be reported as the assets of the account holder, not the assets of the beneficiary. However, the custodial college savings plan account is an exception, because if the student is a dependent student then the asset is reported as a parent asset.
Related:What is Social Security Number?
DEPENDANCY STATUS RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
Various misconceptions regarding the dependency status of the student arise while filing the FAFSA. Some of the common errors have been evaluated below:
- The student who has served on active duty even for one day, and has managed to get discharged with the character certificate other than ‘Dishonorable’, can be considered as a veteran for the federal student aid purpose.
- There comes a question on the FAFSA that asks whether you were born before or after January 1. Your answer should be ‘YES’, only if the year specified in the question is more than your birth year.
- ROTC students, or Students who have served on active duty for training purposes, or the students who have served as the Members of National Guard or Reserves are not considered as veterans for the federal student aid purpose.
- Any student who has a child, but does not fund half or more of the child support, will be considered to have only the spouse as his/her dependent.
MARITAL STATUS RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- Report the marital status accurately as it is on the day of filing of the FAFSA.
- The answer to the question ‘As of today, are you married?’, is ‘MARRIED’, even if the student has separated but not divorced his/her spouse.
- For questions relating to the marital status of the parent, the student is entitled to mention the present marital status of the custodial parent (if the student’s parents are divorced). For example, if the custodial parent has remarried, then the student has to write ‘MARRIED’ and not ‘Divorced or Separated’.
- If the student’s parents are divorced, and the custodial parent has remarried, then the income and asset of the student’s stepparent has to be reported on the FAFSA, even if there is no prenuptial agreement.
- In case, if the student’s parents are divorced or separated, then only the custodial parent, or the parent with whom the student has lived the most in the last 12 months, or the parent who has provided more financial support is responsible for completing the FAFSA.
- If one of the student’s parent has died, then the student needs to report the income and assets of only the surviving parent.
- Students or parents, who have married a person of the same sex, should report themselves as ‘Married’, only if they had legally married in a state or country that permits same sex marriage.
HOUSEHOLD SIZE RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- There are many speculations regarding the unborn or to-be-born child in the family, as to whether or not the unborn child has to be included in the household size on the FAFSA. If the child will be born before the end of the award year, and if the child is going to receive half or more of the child support from the student or the parents (if the student is dependent), then the child has to be included in the household size on the FAFSA. However, you must have a medical documentation of a current pregnancy to count an unborn child in the household size.
- Do not forget to count the student in the household size. Many families make the mistake of ignoring the student while counting their household size.
- If the student’s parents are unmarried, but live together, then the children who are dependent on the student’s parents for half or more of their child support, will have to be included in the household size.
- If the stepparent has children from the previous marriage, and if they receive half or more of the child support from the stepparent, and will continue to do so till the end of the award year, then they have to be included in the household size as well.
PREVIOUS EDUCATION RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- The first-generation students have a better chance of availing more amount of financial aid. So, while answering the questions related to the parent’s educational qualification, you should carefully understand the question. If your parents have studied till high school, or they have any college degree other than a bachelor’s degree, then your answer should be ‘High School’, and not ‘College or Beyond’. The sole aim of these types of question is to find out about your first-generation college student status.
- The question ‘Have you received any bachelor’s degree prior to July 1’ has to be answered carefully. If you answer ‘YES’ to this question, then it may disqualify you for the Federal Pell Grant and other forms of federal student aid which are specifically meant for undergraduate students.
- The high school diploma is not considered to be a degree or a certificate.
- By professional degree, they mean advanced degrees like J.D or L.L.B (Law), M.D or D.O (medicine), D.V.M (Veterinary medicine), etc. and not any kind of vocational program at a technical school.
GENERAL FAFSA ERRORS
- Your answer for the question that asks about your consent for Federal Work-Study should always be ‘YES’. selecting ‘NO’ as an answer to this question will not increase the amount of grant aid that you were supposed to receive. You can turn down the work-study or scholarship funds letter.
- Do not include anything extra with the paper FAFSA, when you mail it. If you wish to mention certain unusual circumstances, then try contacting the financial aid administrator, and ask them for professional judgement review.
- Register for the Selective Service, if you are aged in between 18 and 25. Failing to register with Selective Service may disqualify you from availing federal student aid as well as some state and institutional aid.
- The paper FAFSA filers must make sure that they write only in the specified areas, and not in the margins. Writing in the margins may lead to scanning errors.
DEADLINE RELATED FAFSA ERRORS
- Mention all the colleges on the FAFSA with caution. If you fail to mention any college, then that college is not going to receive the data FAFSA, and financial aid funds won’t be considered for that school.
- Remember to sign the form using your FSA id, while completing the FAFSA on the Web (FOTW). You also have the option to print out the page, sign it, and then mail it to the address listed on the signature page. The dependent students need to include the custodial parent’s sign along with his/her signature.
Other lessons on FAFSA