Common FAFSA Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

You've made up your mind to go back to school. Now, don't let anything stand in your way — especially delayed financial aid paperwork including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A corrected FAFSA application can take an additional two to three weeks to process according to FinAid, a student resource for tackling the financial aid application process. So, it's best to avoid any issues when initially completing the forms. Here's how!

Common FAFSA Mistakes

Slow down and take your time when completing the FAFSA. As soon as you think it's complete, set it aside and look at it again the next day with fresh eyes to catch any errors that could delay the processing of your application. Here are a few of the most common errors noticed by FAFSA staff.

1. Not Answering a Question

Don't leave any blanks on the form. If you don't have an answer, place a zero in the space or write "not applicable" on the form. This tells the reviewer you've read the question and either the answer is zero, or it doesn't apply to your circumstances — not that you skipped over the question by accident.

2. Using a Nickname or Favored Surname

Look at your social security card for your full, legal name. Use it. If you're not officially divorced and still legally have your married name write it on the application even if you don't use it in everyday situations. And remember to check the married box, even if you're separated.

3. Reporting Income Tax Correctly

Read all the instructions carefully on the FAFSA. According to the U.S. Department of Education's blog, HomeRoom, many applicants misinterpret how to report income tax. This is just the tax — not your total earned income — that you (and your spouse, if married) paid to the IRS.

4. Entering Your Social Security Number

Double check that you're entering your social security number and not that of your mother, father, or spouse in the section that calls for your number. And one quick reminder: Your driver's license number is not always the same as your social security number. Double-check for this number against your actual social security card.

5. Forgetting to Fully Sign the Form

Once the FASFA is complete, you must endorse the documents in several ways. If you're filing online, you must include a unique PIN generated by the U.S Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office. A parent, spouse, or FAFSA preparation service personnel may also be required to sign, depending on your circumstances.

Where to Get Help With the FAFSA

You don't have to wade through the FAFSA alone. Thousands of students complete financial aid paperwork each year with assistance from mentors and college resource centers. Here are a few options:

  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
  • Set up an appointment with the financial aid administrator at your college.
  • Visit the US Department of Education website for helpful tips.

What are your main questions or concerns about filling out the FAFSA? Tell us in the comments below.

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