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High school seniors left as much as $2.7 billion in free student aid on the table in the last academic year, according to a 2017 NerdWallet study. Part of that cash is missed because of errors students are making on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, forms. Here are some of the most common FAFSA mistakes, according to financial aid experts and the U.S. Department of Education.
Entering the wrong Social Security number
If you make a mistake with your Social Security number, the online FAFSA won’t allow you to make a change and you may have to submit a new application. You’ll have to ask the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend whether to start the process over again with a new form.
Submitting a name that doesn’t match your legal name
If your name is legally Jonathan Smith according to your Social Security card, but you submit your name as John Smith on your FAFSA, it could delay your application. Since the FAFSA verifies your legal information with the Social Security Administration, you have to make sure the name you use to start the FAFSA is the legal name on your Social Security card.
Forgetting to include a school on your form
You can designate only 10 schools on your online FAFSA to receive your financial information. If you don’t include a school you’ve applied to, it won’t receive your information. By adding another school to the list of 10, one of the previous schools will be removed, but you can choose which one to replace.
If you're applying to more than 10 colleges you can make your information available to the additional ones after you receive your Student Aid Report by making a correction to your FAFSA. You can do this yourself through the FAFSA website or by mailing a correction on your paper report. Or, you can have the additional colleges or Federal Student Aid Information Center add the schools to your FAFSA for you by contacting them directly.
Taking too long to file
The federal deadline to submit your FAFSA this year is June 30, so it may seem like you have plenty of time to file. But if you wait to submit your application until the last minute, you may miss out on certain grants and scholarships. Schools will have their own deadlines, some as early as February. Make sure to submit well before individual and state college deadlines — before schools run out of money to offer.
Miscalculating dependency or household size
“A question I always get is, if the student is living off campus, are they counted in the household size — and of course they are,” says Cora Manuel, assistant financial aid director at Saint Mary’s College of California. “In theory, parents are still providing support and are responsible for educational expenses and things like that.”
If anything changes with your dependency status — except a marital status change — you will need to update your application.
If the student filer is a parent, then he or she is considered an independent only if the student provides the majority of the financial support for the child. “In some cases, that child is staying at home with the student’s parents,” Manuel says. “With that situation, we have to work with the family, and the parents will have to report income and assets on the student’s FAFSA.”
Failing to note that your divorced parent is remarried
If your parents are separated or divorced, you must report information on the one you live with more often or who provides more than 51% of support to you. If the parent who supports you is remarried, then your stepparent must provide information on the FAFSA as well.
Waiting until you file taxes to apply
You don’t have to wait until you or your parents file taxes; there’s an option on the form to choose “will file” and estimate income using the previous year’s pay stubs.
Estimations or mistakes in income can be corrected later when you update your FAFSA with you or your parents’ current year tax information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically transfer tax information. Your information should be available on the tool two weeks after you file, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Not reporting untaxed income
“Some families have more untaxed income than they realize they do, like a retirement fund contribution,” says Elizabeth McDuffie, executive director of the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, the state agency in North Carolina responsible for financial aid for students preparing for college. “Retirement funds don’t count, but any contribution you make to that account does.” McDuffie suggests taking advantage of the tools on the side of the online form that can give you additional information about what you should be reporting.
Forgetting to sign and submit
If you don’t sign your application, it won’t be submitted properly. Use the new Federal Student Aid ID to sign electronically or you can opt to print a page and submit regular signatures. Confirm your FAFSA was submitted by checking your status immediately after you file on the My FAFSA page of FAFSA.gov.
How to correct FAFSA mistakes
Most mistakes on a submitted FAFSA application can be corrected. You can make changes by logging in to the My FAFSA page of FASFA.gov and submitting changes under the category called Make FAFSA Corrections. You can also make changes electronically with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.