The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS Profile (if needed) for the 2023-24 college year will be available online beginning October 1. Every year, around this time, students and parents start to worry about getting their applications completed quickly.
They know that the FAFSA can often be the first step in obtaining federal, state and institutional aid. But, any mistakes can lead to delays and frustration. To save you from that anxiety, here are my tips on the most common FAFSA missteps to avoid:
- Not Being Prepared: We all know that the FAFSA comes online every year on October 1, so there is plenty of time to get ready for it. But, just like clockwork, many families seem surprised that it’s FAFSA time again, and rush around trying to gather documents. Take a look at my list of documents now so this doesn’t happen to you. Also, be aware that states have financial aid deadlines, and some are as early as November!
- FSA ID Problems: Parents and students must have separate FSA ID numbers, yet this also seems to be an issue every year. Do NOT create an FSA ID on someone else’s behalf. Parents should not create an FSA ID for their children, for example, and a student should not create an FSA ID for their parents. If you have not done so already, create an FSA ID now.
- Not Signing the FAFSA: Always be sure to sign the FAFSA. That’s one thing you will need the FSA ID for – not only does it get you into the FAFSA website, it also serves as your legal signature when submitting the document.
- Wrong Name: The name you use on the FAFSA must exactly match the one associated with your Social Security number – no nicknames, no different spellings – exactly the same. And, speaking of Social Security numbers, both parents and the student will need one. If you don’t have one already, request a new or replacement card from the Social Security Administration now.
- No 2021 Federal Income Taxes: The FAFSA uses the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to help in completing the FAFSA online. This makes it so much easier, and helps to avoid transposition errors.
- Parents: The FAFSA form has very specific guidelines about which parent’s information to report, and it has nothing to do with who claims you on their taxes. You cannot say you live with a grandparent and use their financial information if they do not have legal guardianship over you.
- Leaving Blank Fields: Too many blanks may cause miscalculations, and lead to an application rejection. Enter a “0” or “not applicable” instead of leaving a blank field.
- Using Commas or Decimal Points: Always round to the nearest dollar.
- Failure to List Both Parents If They Live Together: If both legal parents (defined as biological or adoptive parents) live in the same household, they must both be listed on the FAFSA, even if they are not married.
- Not Checking Your Work: Step away from the application for a minute, and then go back and review it again with fresh eyes.
- Omitting the College List: You must list potential colleges, so they will receive your information and review it as part of their financial aid award process.
The biggest FAFSA mistake to avoid is not filling one out at all. With all the potential pitfalls, some families will just throw up their hands and forget about even trying to complete the FAFSA. But that is the worst thing you could do. You could eliminate yourself from the running for many forms of college financial aid, and will also need it if you want to apply for federal student loans.
CFAA helps students plan for every step of the college financial aid process, from completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to comparing financial aid offers and understanding student loan options. Schedule a CFAA new client free strategy session or a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college. To get the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my bi-weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.