It’s that time of year again – FAFSA season! That probably doesn’t incite much excitement, but the FAFSA is so vital to financial aid that it can’t be overlooked. Rather, it must be embraced. With so much riding on the FAFSA, you can’t afford to get the application wrong – literally. Yet, so many students and parents make costly mistakes each year. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education encourages FAFSA filers to learn from the mistakes of others by highlighting common FAFSA mistakes. By avoiding these, you can increase your chances of getting a better financial aid deal if you qualify. 1. Giving UpThe U.S. Dept of Education states that one of the biggest mistakes is not completing the application. Students and parents encounter a section that seems difficult or they don’t know the exact answers to, and they sign off. But trouble filling out the FAFSA or not having enough time is not an excuse. The FAFSA supplies plenty of help along the way, from helpful tips on the actual application to representatives that can help over the phone to weekend workshops in communities around the country. Oh – and the Department of Education says that thinking you wouldn’t qualify for financial aid anyway is the worst excuse for not filling out the form. 2. Being UnpreparedFirst, you need to know where to go. There are many websites out there that seem like the FAFSA site – even some that would steal your information or make you pay to file the FAFSA – but there is only one place online to fill out and complete the FAFSA: www.fafsa.ed.gov. Second, you need an FSA ID in order to begin and complete a FAFSA application, and this needs to be set up ahead of time. Don’t wait until your state deadline to sign up for one because the process takes a few days.3. Missing Deadlines Speaking of deadlines, the FAFSA is not technically due until June 30 of the year after it’s released, meaning it has an 18-month cycle. However – and this is a big however – state and school deadlines fall in February through June of the year it’s released. In order to get the maximum amount of financial aid you can receive if you qualify – from both the federal and state governments – you need to have your FAFSA completed and submitted as soon as possible after October 1. The new date also means you don't wait until your income taxes are filed in April. Rather, you can submit last year's tax information. Keep in mind that financial aid is disbursed on a first come, first serve basis. So, again, don’t miss deadlines, and try to have the form filled out as close to the October 1 release date as possible. 4. Inputting Incorrect Information The U.S. Department of Education provides common places on the form for which applicants input the wrong information. Many times, a parent filing the FAFSA will insert their information where the application says “you” or “your.” While the application does have areas where parents’ information is required, any time the application mentions “you” or “your,” it’s asking for the student’s information. Other ways in which applicants input the wrong information are writing in nicknames instead of the full name, entering the wrong social security number and substituting income for income tax. Essentially, it’s so important to read (and reread and reread) instructions on the FAFSA in order to complete it successfully. 5. Not Signing the Form Finally, the Department of Education says that a big common mistake is forgetting to sign the form. If the form is not signed, it’s not complete. If the form is not signed by a parent or legal guardian, it’s not complete. Applicants must sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID so don’t lose that number. In addition to needing it to start the form, you need it to finish the form too. Good luck – and complete your FAFSA as soon as possible!
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