I equate the FAFSA to filing taxes.
We all have the ability to do our own, but when we only do it once a year, not only is it a painful and time consuming process it can be very confusing. We can file our taxes for free, yet many of us purchase software programs or pay an accountant or CPA to prepare our taxes since they keep up with changes, updates and know the loopholes that will help us pay less in taxes.
It’s the same when using a college financial planning professional to help you file your financial aid forms. This is what we do for a living. We don’t like to do it anymore than you do but at least we know what we’re doing!
Parents are told at HS financial aid nights to NEVER pay someone to prepare the FAFSA for them since it’s a free online form. And yes, you can do this on your own as long as you take the time to read the 100 plus pages of instructions, gather the correct documents, figure out which line items are needed from your tax return, where to input 529 plan and Prepaid Tuition balances, you can manage to do this on your own with minimal errors. But for the majority of us we don’t take the time to read directions.
Time is our most precious commodity. We work full time, have several kids involved in some sort of activity every school night and weekend, community and church involvement, and of course we now have campus tours and college fairs to throw into an already bursting at the seams schedule. So you sit down, skim directions, and wing it.
Every year I end up making corrections and filing appeals for families that filed the FAFSA for themselves because of that “never pay a fee” advice. Often times this results in costly delays, missed deadlines and thousands of dollars in lost financial aid. I always say there is no free lunch in America, there is a cost to everything, even when it appears to be free.
Here is my Top 10 List of the 50 most common FAFSA mistakes I see each year:
10) Filing the wrong application. There are 2 FAFSA forms on the www.fafsa.ed.gov site throughout the year. Know which is your correct year.
9) Not counting your student as “1 in college.” The application is factoring the year your student is in college even though they are still in HS when you complete this for the 1st time.
8) Over-reporting Assets. The equity in your home, qualified retirement accounts, cash value in permanent life insurance contracts, qualified annuities and assets in a family owned business with less than 100 employees are sheltered assets from reporting on the FAFSA.
7) Mixing up the information between you and your student. This is the student’s FAFSA, not yours.
6) Not accepting Work Study. A work study campus job has many benefits beyond earning extra pocket money. Work study earnings are not included on the FAFSA. If you check no, you lose the opportunity to apply if you change your mind later.
5) Incorrect birthdates and SS#’s. I met a Dad years ago who put the older son’s SS# and birthdate on the younger son’s FAFSA. By the time they got it all sorted out they missed out on any financial aid for that year. The information on the FAFSA and Social Security must be the same.
4) Incorrect name. You have called your son Chuck since birth. You registered him as Chuck at www.fafsa.ed.gov. His given name is Charles. See #5 above!
3) Divorced Parents. There are so many mistakes that divorced parents make we have a blog post all on its own, but the most common is using the wrong parents’ income and assets on the FAFSA.
2) Missing Deadlines. Don’t go by the FAFSA deadline of the end of June. Every school has their own priority deadline for receiving your FAFSA. Don’t miss it!
And of course the #1 most common and biggest mistake is…
1) listening to the “experts” who tell you don’t bother filing the FAFSA because you “won’t get anything.” Bottom line, everyone should file the FAFSA for every year you have a student in college. You never know when life throws you a challenge of job loss, medical emergency, a disability where you can’t work for 6 months, or untimely death. Count your blessings if it doesn’t but always plan for the worst scenario.
Even if you won’t qualify for anything, like your expert neighbor or water cooler buddy at work told you, when those life events happen you have an opportunity to ask for assistance if you need it, as long as you had filed the FAFSA before the deadline. Also, many schools require the FAFSA to award Merit Aid, which could be in the tens of thousands of dollars of free money that you never ever have to pay back.
Need more FAFSA Help?
I will be offering a FAFSA workshop in October for my local clients. We will be going through the FAFSA application line by line so you won’t find yourself in the Top 10 List I just mentioned.
To find out more information and reserve your seat, click the button below.
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