We wrote recently about finding last minute money for college and our first piece of advice was to file your FAFSA. You may think that it’s too late to get any funds or may have thought you won’t qualify for any if your parents (or you as an adult returning to college) earn too much, but you should still submit this all-important form. Even if you don’t qualify for grants or scholarships, you will need to have this on file if you ever want to borrow student loans to help with the cost of your schooling. But in your haste to submit the form, don’t get sloppy. These are five common mistakes to avoid…
#1 Don’t miss the final deadline
The earlier you file your FAFSA, the better, since much college aid is on a first come, first serve basis, but you still may have a shot at some. There is no federal FAFSA deadline – it depends on the state your college is in and it varies widely. Some deadlines are as early as February, but many fall in early-to-late May and some as late as September. Many deadlines are school-dependent, so you should also check with the financial aid officer at your intended college or university.
#2 Don’t rush through and make simple mistakes
This may sound obvious, but if you are under the gun and trying to get your FAFSA done speedily, you may make dumb mistakes. Entering your name incorrectly is a common error – it must be your legal name as it’s listed on your social security card. Another is misentering your social security number by inverting a digit. Also remember that when listing how many people are in your household, this is not the same as “family size.” For instance, if you have a grandparent or other relative living with you that your parents support, they are counted for this purpose.
#3 Don’t input wrong answers or bad data
Your data must match IRS records, so it’s very important that you are completely accurate in what you submit. The best way to ensure you are submitting the right data is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This pulls up all of your income information. You also need to submit the amount of your income tax. This is not the amount of the check you wrote or amount that was withheld from your pay. It is the amount of tax calculated based on your income. You can see what line it’s on depending on your tax form by clicking here.
#4 Don’t leave out parent information (if applicable)
If you are considered a dependent for financial purposes, even if you’re supporting yourself right now, you have to report your parents’ financial information. If for some reason, you don’t live with your parents, it is still their financial information you have to submit. For instance, if you live with a grandparent, it is still your parents’ info that must be reported. If you can’t include it, you will be greatly limited in what aid you can get.
#5 Don’t forget to sign the FAFSA digitally
Without a signature, your FAFSA will not be considered properly submitted and cannot be processed. Because the FAFSA is now digital, the means to apply your “signature” is through the use of a PIN (personal identification number). You will have a PIN and your parent will have one as well. Both must be used to add your signatures. As soon as you submit it, you can confirm the submission online.
If you haven’t already completed your FAFSA, the time is now. If your financial aid plans include student loans, sign up for a free Tuition.io account to manage, track and optimize your debt from the moment you take out your first loan.