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FAFSA Workshop Part 3: Common Blunders on the FAFSA Application

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Welcome to part 3 of the Financial Aid Finder’s five-part FAFSA Workshop. As the month of February winds its way down, many of you have just days or weeks left to finish up your FAFSA.

In the first two weeks of our series, we gave you a list of the Essential FAFSA Documents and talked about How to Get a FSA ID.

Today, we are taking a look at some of the most common mistakes students make when completing their FAFSA. I know this process can feel overwhelming when you first get started, but it’s important to stay focused. Mistakes on the FAFSA are serious business, since they can delay the processing of your application by three weeks or more.

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Here are some of the most common blunders — and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Typos, spelling errors, missed questions, etc.
The most common mistakes are caused by carelessness. The good news is that these errors can easily be avoided by working slowly and methodically. If you find yourself getting groggy, take a caffeine break.  You might also want to work through the FAFSA workshop with pen and paper before filling out the real deal online. You can download a copy of the FAFSA worksheet here. And remember, you must never leave a question blank. If it doesn’t apply to you, fill in a zero (0).

2. Incorrect information
In addition to reading each question carefully, you want to be sure you understand what is being asked of you. Refer to the If you still can’t figure something out, get help. The Federal Student Aid Information Center can be reached toll-free, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

3. Tax errors
The most common tax error is to record your taxes withheld or tax owed, rather than your total income tax. If you received a refund, your total income tax was lower than what you paid. If you owed taxes, it was higher than what you paid.

4. Head of household filing status
Most of the time when someone files as head of household, they are doing so in error. Check with an accountant before filing (or if one of your parents is filing) as head of household. If there was an error, you school will require you to file an amended income tax return, which will delay your award notification.

5. Social Security number and birth date
Any names and social security numbers filled out on the FAFSA must exactly match how they appear on your social security card. If you have changed your name legally, you should have an updated social security card. If you use the wrong name or transpose even one number, it could delay the processing of your application by several weeks. The same applies to your birth date (month, date, year).

6. Marital status

  • If you or your parents are married but separated, you should answer Yes to the question: “As of today, are you married.”
  • As for which parent fills out the FAFSA in the event of a separation or divorce, it is the one that you have been living with the most time over the past 12 months. This may or may not be the parent who has legal custody of you.
  • If the parent who is filling out the FAFSA has gotten remarried, then your step-parent must also report his or her income and assets.

7. Assets

  • Your and your siblings’ 529 college savings plans must be reported as parental assets if the accounts are owned by your parents.
  • Your and/or your parents’ pension plans do not need to be reported as an asset.

8. Veteran Status
You can only be considered a veteran if you have served on active duty and received an honorable discharge. National Guard and ROTC training does not count as veteran status for the FAFSA.

9. Legal Dependents
If you are pregnant at the time of filling out the FAFSA and your child will be born during the award year (July 1 – June 30), you can count them as a member of the household.

10. Interest in Work-Study, Student Loans, etc.
Even if you think you will not want to take out a student loan, answer yes to all questions about interest in various forms of aid. You are not obligated to take those offers if they are made.

11. Signature
If you forget to sign your FAFSA (either manually or with your PIN, if completing the form online), it will not be processed.

12. You and Your
The terms of “you” and “your” refers to you, the student, not your parents.

13. Parents/ Guardians
Only use the information of your biological or legally adoptive parents. If you live with your grandparents, aunts, uncles or foster parents, they are not legally considered your guardians for the purposes of the FAFSA.

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