financial aid

10 Common Mistakes Made on the FAFSA

When completing the FAFSA form it’s important to follow directions carefully and with over 100 fields, anyone can make mistakes. Here are a few tips to help you get started and some common mistakes to avoid. 

Starting Tips:
1. Use the Correct Form – The correct FAFSA form can be found at fafsa.gov. This form is FREE to fill out. Don’t ever pay for a FAFSA form!

2. Federal Student Aid ID – Your student needs to obtain a Federal Student Aid ID number and use their ID number at the start of the form.

3. IRS Data Retrieval Tool – When asked, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to attach tax returns to the FAFSA form.

4. Prior-Prior Tax Returns – FAFSA will ask for the parent’s prior-prior year tax return. In other words, the 2017 tax return is required for the 2019 application.

Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid:
1. File Early and On Time – The form opens on October 1 and some college programs have limited funding that could run out if not applied for early.

2. Use Correct Social Security Number and Driver’s License Numbers – Changing the social security number is the only mistake that cannot be corrected. If the wrong SS number is used, a new form must be generated.

3. Make Sure To Select Colleges to Send FAFSA Form To – Up to ten schools can be selected and will be sent your student’s FAFSA. If the schools are not selected, then your student won’t be eligible for financial aid.

4. Use Student’s Full Legal Name – The student’s name must be consistent with what is on the parents tax return

5. Use Correct Marital Status – Correct listings of both parent’s marital status is a must. If one or both parents are remarried, that information must be included as well.

6. Don’t Leave Blank Fields – Leaving too many fields blank can disqualify an applicant.

7. Males Register for Selective Service – Failure to register for Selective Service for males 18-25 can disqualify an applicant. Registration can be taken care of while filling out FAFSA.

8. Fill out the FAFSA Form Every Year – FAFSA must be filled out every year student attends college.

9. Calculate the HouseHold Dependents Correctly – If the student is attending college are they considered a dependent? Yes! If parents are providing support for that student, they are considered dependents.

10. Sign the FAFSA Form – Not signing FAFSA report is the biggest mistake made. The form is signed using the Federal Student Aid ID number (FSA ID).

But don’t worry, almost all mistakes can be corrected by logging into your student’s myFAFSA page and selecting the category called Make FAFSA Corrections.

Does Your Student Qualify for Financial Aid?

Federal Student Aid is determined by the FAFSA report. To see if your student will qualify for financial aid, have them go through the following list:
  • Your student needs to have completed their high school education either with a diploma or GED.
  • The student must have been accepted by a college or university to receive aid. (They will apply for the aid before being accepted to a school).
  • Male students between 18-25 must register with the Selective Service.
  • The student needs a valid Social Security number.
  • The student agrees that they are not in default of a Federal Student Loan and agrees to use the federal student aid for educational purposes only.
  • The students will maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • The student must be a US citizen, hold a Green Card, have an arrival-departure record, Battered Immigrant Status or a T-Visa.
Once the student confirms all the above, they can fill out the FAFSA report. The FAFSA report factors in real estate, income and other assets and it will determine the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
Next take the EFC and subtract the total cost for the school (including fees and room and board). The sum determines your student’s financial need. The aid offered by schools could be in the form of scholarship, Federal Pell Grants, Federal work-study or subsidized direct loans.
Merit-Based Aid differs from financial aid. It is based on your student’s academic achievements and will be offered to the student regardless if they qualify for financial aid.
So how do you determine if you qualify for financial aid? NetPrice Calculators on the financial aid page of every college and university website should help. There you are asked to plug in your student’s EFC number and the Net Price Calculator will calculate your estimated Financial Aid for that specific school.
Many factors apply including owning your home and price of living in your hometown. Financial Aid offices at most colleges and universities can be helpful to parents if you have specific questions.
It’s best to encourage your student to apply to all levels of colleges, private and state. Where one school may give them a full scholarship, the next college may give them nothing. We can’t determine the amount of aid before acceptance, but filling out the FAFSA and using the Net Price calculates are your first steps in understanding if you will qualify at all.

Negotiating for Financial Aid. Does it Work to Call the FA Office?

I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. I’d just had a nightmare about calling the financial aid office of my daughter’s top school. In reality, I have not made the call yet. But I plan to and I am strategizing just how to do that.

In talking to other parents who have gone through this before me, I’ve learned the following tips: When dealing with financial aid officers, etiquette applies. Always be polite.  Always express your excitement that your student was accepted to their school. Always thank the school for the aid they have already offered.

Introduce comparative offers. Ask if the school could consider matching the offers. If there are no other offers to compare to, then ask if they can offer more aid which might entail explaining your financial situation.

Other advise I have received is to have your child write and call the financial aid office first. If the desire for more aid comes from the student, the school sees the student’s commitment. The parent should also call and email the financial aid office too because most likely the financial aid is based on the parents income and tax return which might need explanation.

Sometimes it’s necessary to have your child’s college counselor email or call on your child’s behalf. You might need as many advocates as possible if a lot of need is required.

The biggest tip I’ve learned is being to leverage offers. In other words, if your child received $5,000 in aid from their first choice school and $25,000 aid from their second choice school, the idea is to call the first choice school and tell them that your child very much wants to attend their college, that it’s the first choice, but they have received a better offer from another school. Then ask if the first school can match that offer. In some cases they may ask you to forward the other offer to them. They may match the offer or up their offer or just leave their offer untouched.

It’s hard enough to get through the application process and the emotion of offers coming in or being denied, but throwing the financial aid into the mix for me is the hardest part.

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