avoid fafsa application mistakes

How to Avoid Costly FAFSA Mistakes and Protect Your Financial Aid

Avoiding making FAFSA mistakes is crucial if you want to get financial aid for college. Simple mistakes such as spelling errors, leaving blank fields, or not reporting all income could mean the difference between affording college or not. The federal government, colleges, and universities use the FAFSA information to determine if you can get grants or student loans.

If you’re a non-traditional student, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t apply for financial assistance. It doesn’t matter if you’re over 24, have a family, or are currently employed — you can fill out the FAFSA. The form helps you know how much financial aid you can get or what type of student loans you’re eligible for.

In this article, you’ll find out the costliest FAFSA mistakes you could make. If you avoid these, you could get financial aid to obtain your degree as a non-traditional student.

The Most Common FAFSA Mistakes You Must Avoid

If you’re a non-traditional student, how can you get financial assistance to complete your college degree? You should start your quest for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA. Don’t use the form as a last resort when you’ve exhausted all other financial assistance.

You should also ensure that you get an FSA ID and always use this when applying for federal education grants.

Read on to find out how to avoid the costly mistakes on your FAFSA form.

Mistake #1 — Not filling out the FAFSA

The most common FAFSA mistake is not to fill out the form at all. Many “non-trad” students mistakenly assume that grants and loans are only for high school leavers. However, anyone considering college can complete the FAFSA.

According to a survey by Ipsos, nearly 30 percent of eligible students didn’t complete the form in the 2019-2020 year. The most common reason was that they didn’t think they would qualify.  But here’s the thing — you won’t know if you are eligible if you don’t fill out the form. 

Some news reports say over $2.3 billion in federal grants was left on the table because students didn’t fill out the FAFSA.

Mistake #2 — Leaving blank fields on the form

It’s a mistake to leave blank spaces on the FAFSA form. Even if the question doesn’t apply to you, you should write zero. Leaving blanks on the form makes the processor think that you forgot to answer the question. This mistake can either delay the application or cause you to miss out on federal grants.

Mistake #3 — Making careless spelling mistakes

One blunder that can prove costly is making careless typos on the form. Common errors are a wrong social security number, date of birth, or not entering your legal name. For example, you shouldn’t write shortened forms of your name.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) also says that you must enter your permanent address, not any temporary address.

Mistake #4 — Not reporting all income and taxes paid

It’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to reporting your income. If you’re applying as a non-traditional student, it’s best to use the 1040 federal tax return for reporting income. You could also use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to fill out some of the income and tax-related questions on the form.

Some common tax-related mistakes when it comes to filling out the FAFSA are the following:

  • Entering the wrong federal income tax amount paid
  • Entering your adjusted gross income as total income
  • Not listing your marital status correctly
  • Not reporting an unborn child if you’re pregnant
  • You don’t list all members of the household. For example, if your dependent son or daughter lives on-campus, they are still part of your household.

Remember to report any untaxed income you receive. This could be income, such as child support, disability income, or veterans’ benefits.

Mistake #5 — Applying too late

Don’t make the mistake of leaving it too late to fill out the FAFSA — do it as soon as you decide to go to college. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. And even though you’re entering college as a non-traditional student, you still may be entitled to Pell Grants. You can start applying from 1 October to maximize your chances of getting a grant.

To avoid the mistake of applying too late, check the FAFSA “priority deadline” and submit by that date. You’ll also need to be aware of separate deadlines that colleges have for accepting financial aid applications.

Mistake #6 — Not naming every school you’re considering

To increase your chances of getting federal cash to get you through college, you should list all the schools you’re considering. The FAFSA form allows you to submit up to ten colleges. If you decide to change the list later, you should remember to update the form.

It can also be an expensive mistake if you don’t rank at least one state school high on your list. A general rule is to put your first choice as the state school you’re most likely to attend.

Mistake #7 — Forgetting about additional applications

Depending on which college you hope to attend, you may need to complete additional forms. To find out if you need to do this, contact the financial aid office in the college. They will inform you of other information you need to submit and the deadlines.

There may even be additional scholarships or grants that you qualify for. For example, some colleges have specific scholarships for non-traditional students.

If your financial situation is currently different from the information on your tax returns, don’t forget to request a “professional judgment.” This is a mistake many people who leave their job to go to college make.

Mistake #8 — Not signing the application

It’s surprising how many students make the mistake of forgetting to sign the FAFSA. If you’re completing the FAFSA online, then you can sign it electronically with your FSA ID. And always remember to click “submit” to ensure your application gets processed. On paper applications, you need to sign and date the form before mailing it.

Avoiding Costly FAFSA Mistakes — In Conclusion

It is vital to complete the FAFSA accurately. It’s always a good idea to use the FAFSA checklist to help avoid making mistakes while filling out the form. Some information on the form can’t be changed after you’ve submitted it. So, it’s always best to double-check all information before submitting it.

An accurate FAFSA can be the key to getting the financial aid you need to go to college.

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