10 common mistakes made on the FAFSA

Many schools and states use the FAFSA to determine student aid.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, is a form that determines student aid eligibility for federal student loans and grants. Many colleges and universities as well as states also use the form to determine students' eligibility for nonfederal need-based aid – additional funds students can use to pay for school. But making a mistake on the FAFSA or submitting the application late can result in processing delays or limit the amount of aid awarded to a student, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. For families completing the FAFSA, here are 10 common mistakes to avoid.

Not filling out the FAFSA form early

Parents and students can complete the FAFSA as early as Oct. 1 for the following academic year. While the application deadline isn't until June 30, financial aid administrators recommend applying early since some states and colleges have earlier deadlines and limited funds. "It is so critical that students and parents pay attention to deadlines and complete the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available," says David Carnevale, director of undergraduate financial aid at Chapman University in California.

Using an incorrect Social Security number

While most mistakes on the online FAFSA application can be corrected after submission, an error in the Social Security number of the student or parent may require the submission of an entirely new application, experts say. For students with parents who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents with a Social Security number, the Department of Education advises using "000-00-0000" when completing the form.

Not listing schools where you plan to apply

Applicants can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA. If you don’t include a school where you're planning to apply, that college or university won’t receive your information. To make changes or add a school to the FAFSA, an applicant needs to log in to his or her FAFSA account and select the option Make FAFSA Corrections. Alternately, applicants can send up to four changes at a time on a paper version of their Student Aid Report by mail. The SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data submitted, and it's sent to the applicant via email or postal mail.

Failing to use your legal name

"Don’t enter nicknames or other variations on your name," according to the NASFAA website. The names an applicant lists on the application for a student or a parent must match government documents, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card. If the FAFSA has been submitted with an incorrect name, the applicant needs to submit a name change via the paper version of the SAR or contact a financial aid office at one of the colleges listed on the SAR report.

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Not completing the FAFSA each year

Students must complete and submit the FAFSA annually to be considered each school year for federal work-study and funds such as the Pell Grant, federal student loans and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG.

Listing parental marriage status incorrectly

A common mistake is not disclosing remarriage, says Sean Moore, founder of SMART College Funding and a certified financial planner. He says the initial question about parents is confusing. That's question 59 on the 2017-2018 FAFSA, which reads, "As of today, what is the marital status of your legal parents (biological and/or adoptive)?" The Department of Education wants to know the marital status as of the day the FAFSA is signed. If an applicant's custodial parent has remarried, the stepparent's information will need to be included on the FAFSA.

Listing income that doesn't match IRS information

In most instances, the FAFSA requires tax information from the prior-prior year. That means, in most instances, families will need tax information from 2017 when they're completing the FAFSA for the 2019-2020 academic year. "If any of the answers do not match the information on the parents' tax returns, the FAFSA form will be rejected," says Lindy Schneider, a Denver-based college adviser and author of "College Secrets of Highly Successful People." Financial aid experts also recommend having tax information handy when filling out the form or using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically transfers tax information to the online FAFSA and reduces the probability of errors.

Leaving too many fields blank

With the more than 100 questions listed on the FAFSA, filling out the form can be a confusing, complicated process for many students and their families. But financial aid experts say that leaving too many blanks on the form may cause a miscalculation or even a rejected application. Instead of leaving an answer to a question blank, the NASFAA advises applicants to enter "0" or "not applicable." Applicants who have a question about the FAFSA form can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center, known as the FSAIC, which provides support on behalf of the Department of Education. The FSAIC is available at 800-433-3243.

Failure to register for Selective Service

Male students ages 18 to 25 must register with the Selective Service System to be eligible for financial aid. "Virtually all male U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, and male immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, residing in the United States, who are 18 through 25, are required to register with Selective Service," according to the agency.

Forgetting to sign your application

If an applicant doesn't sign the FAFSA, the form is considered incomplete and won’t be processed. "One of the most common mistakes a student will make regarding the FAFSA is simply not completing it," Carnevale says. Applicants will need their Federal Student Aid ID, or FSA ID, to sign electronically. Parents and students can find a link to obtain an FSA ID through the Federal Student Aid website. While many applicants submit the form online, applicants can also print the signature page and submit the FAFSA via mail.

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