Sunday, January 09, 2011

9 Common Mistakes Made When Completing the FAFSA

Students and parents are beginning to tackle the FAFSA  (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2011-2012 academic year. There are common mistakes that people make when completing the form that are easy to avoid, which will only prolong the process and potentially cause applicants to loss financial aid funds.  I'm sharing  a list of some of the most frequent mistakes that I have seen students and parents make, so you can avoid them and maximize  your financial aid eligibility.

1. Use your full legal name, not your nickname and spell it correctly. It may seem obvious, but this is a common mistake. The FAFSA is a legal document and you need to enter your legal name on the form. It  is also important because your financial aid application is cross-referenced by the Department of Education with your Social Security Number. If the name you list on the FAFSA does not match the name associated with your SSN, it will be flagged as an error and your financial application will be put on hold until the information is corrected.  Also, college's student record systems will also cross-reference the name you  provided on your college record to the FAFSA record. If the name does not match the name they have on file, the college will not receive your FAFSA electronically.

2. Make sure your Social Security number/Alien Registration  and Date of Birth are correct. Frequently, I have found that the student's SSN is incorrect. It can be as simple as an error of reversing  the numbers of the SSN. I have also seen instances, where a parent has completed the FAFSA for the student and inadvertently entered the parent's own SSN in place of the students. I have came across a situation where a student used a siblings SSN. In addition to being illegal- if done intentionally it is identity fraud- it slows  down the financial aid process.No aid is awarded until this is resolved. The same holds true for the your Date of Birth and  Alien Registration Number for legal aliens/permanent residents, an incorrect date or number will stop the processing of your aid application.

3. Don't confuse your Adjusted Gross Income with your Gross Income. When completing the Income sections of the FAFSA be sure to refer to your 2010 Federal Tax Return. The FAFSA will note the line on the 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ that lists the AGI. If you use the Gross Income figure, you are over-reporting your income and you could lose aid eligibility due to a high income.

4. Don't confuse your Taxes Paid with Taxes Withheld. Often applicants will  mistakenly list the taxes withheld shown on their W-2 as the Taxes Paid. If the taxpayer received a refund, the taxes withheld would be higher than the actual taxes paid. Conversely, if the taxpayer had to submit a payment with the tax return, the FAFSA would be showing less in taxes than was actually paid. Each of these errors would result in a miscalculation of eligibility and would most likely be cause the application to be flagged as having an error.

5. List all members of your household. For Dependent students, this means anyone who lives in your parents house for whom they provide more than 50% support. This includes siblings (including any unborn child that will be born during the academic year the application is being submitted for), step-siblings, nieces/nephews, cousins, grandparents,etc. For Independent students this includes a spouse, children (including any unborn child due during the academic year), step-children, in-laws, etc that live with you for whom you provide more that 50% support.

6. List Family members attending college only if they are enrolled in a degree program. Family members who are attending at least half-time and are enrolled in a degree or certificate program should be listed in the number of family members attending college. Please note: Parents are not included in this number.

7. List the schools and the correct school code that you want to be sent your FAFSA results. Students will frequently omit a school and its school code and be waiting to receive an award letter only to find out too late that the college never received their FAFSA results. When you receive your FAFSA confirmation double check that any college you want to receive the data is listed with its correct school code. Keep in mind that the FAFSA school code is different from the College Board code used when applying for the SAT and ACT. Also, colleges with different campuses or separate schools within a university (for example: School of Business, Graduate Schools) often have separate FAFSA school codes.

8. Don't change Marital Status on the form after filing the FAFSA. You are required to indicate your (and your parents' marital status on the FAFSA) as of the date your FAFSA is completed. If the marital status changes after you submit the FAFSA, you can not change the status. You should contact the Financial Aid Office at your college for instructions on their process for handling such situations.

9. Be sure to sign the FAFSA before filing. You  (and a parent, if you are a Dependent Student) need to sign the FAFSA before submitting it. If you file electronically, you (and your parent) should each have a PIN. The PIN is your electronic signature. If you are filing a paper FAFSA, you (and your parent, for a Dependent Student) must sign the paper application. Failure to sign the form will halt processing of your application.

Avoid these common errors for a stress-free or at least a stress reduced FAFSA experience!

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