Top 4 Critical FAFSA Mistakes College Students Make Every Year

by Hank Coleman

Why College Donations Are ImportantFAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year has been available since October 2016, and the filing deadlines are right around the corner. Getting help paying for college is a major concern for millions of students in the U.S., but filling out FAFSA is a little more complex than say, filling out a job application. You need to have your financial documents and records ready so the government can assess how much aid to grant you, but in spite of the couple-hour process of filling out FAFSA, the benefits of receiving financial aid tend to outweigh the downsides.

4 FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid This Year

There are several myths surrounding student loans and financial aid in general, so here are a few things to avoid while filling out and submitting your FAFSA this year.

Filling Out Wrong FAFSA (or Not at All)

FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” which means you should never be asked to input your credit card or banking information while applying for grants and loans. If you’re not on the FAFSA.gov website, then you might be on a scam site that wants to get your personal information and steal money from you. Don’t fall into this trap!

It’s one thing to fill out the wrong FAFSA, but some people don’t fill out FAFSA at all. These folks oftentimes assume that the application process is too long, cumbersome, or confusing and avoid it altogether. Other people who come from middle to upper class families assume they won’t qualify for aid. But, this isn’t the case. FAFSA is available to students at all accredited high education institutions (even community college students), so don’t mistakenly assume you won’t be eligible for anything from the federal government.

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Filing Too Late

The 2017-2018 school year FAFSA was released towards the end of 2016 (earlier than usual). Each state has its own deadline to apply, but submitting your application after the deadline can leave your financial aid status in jeopardy.

Additionally, states have limited funds available for grants and scholarships (which you don’t have to pay back like loans), and they’re divided up on a first come, first serve basis so it’s best to apply ASAP instead of waiting to submit right before the deadline.

Filing as a Dependent

Your dependency status plays a major role in determining how much aid you will qualify for. If you file as a dependent when you’re actually an independent, you could be missing out on significant financial aid opportunities. Also, filing as an independent can give you access to additional college-related tax deductions, such as tuition, educational expenses, and even student loan interest.

For the 2017-2018 FAFSA, you can determine whether you’re a dependent or independent by checking out this useful infographic. Everything from age (24+ years) to your family (marriage and children) and active military or veteran status could impact your ability to file as an independent. If you ultimately file as an independent, you won’t have to include your parents’ (or guardians’) tax information, which saves a considerable amount of time as well as reducing your expected family contribution.

Overestimating or Underestimating Your Income & Assets

FAFSA checks in with the IRS to determine the accuracy of your self-reported information. If you overestimate your income and assets, you might lose out on some valuable financial aid because you appear wealthier than you really are. On the flip side, underestimating your income and assets can cause problems with your application or even land you in some legal hot water if you purposely misconstrue your financial information.

Fortunately, the 2017-2018 FAFSA rolled out a new feature: letting you submit based on your 2015 tax records, instead of estimating your tax information and updating your FAFSA after the April 15 tax deadline. This is intended to streamline the FAFSA filing process, but if there were significant changes in your income or familial situation between 2015 and 2016, you’ll have to contact your school’s financial aid department to modify your financial aid application.

Even if you’ve been filling out FAFSA for over two years now, there were quite a few new changes to the 2017-2018 application that could trip you up if you’re not careful. By organizing your tax records and personal information in advance, as well as ensuring you’re filling out the right FAFSA with the appropriate dependency status, you’ll be well-equipped for submitting the 2017-2018 FAFSA before the deadline.

Are these the top four FAFSA mistakes? Are there other FAFSA mistakes your son or daughter have made? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comment section below.

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and a graduate certificate in personal financial planning. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 590 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ESI Money

It was easier this year to fill out with the tool that brings your income tax data into the FAFSA.

Still, it was a process set up by the government so there were many pains, as you might imagine. 🙂

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