The best way to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
(FAFSA) is early, and online. The
FAFSA is primarily designed to assess eligibility for federal student aid, but
many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for
nonfederal student aid funds. Remember that there are sometimes early deadlines
for nonfederal student aid and that there is limited funding for some types of
nonfederal student aid. Turning your FAFSA in early could earn you limited
nonfederal aid funds that may not be available if you delay. Any errors you make
when filling out the FAFSA could delay your application. This article highlights
some common errors you should avoid when filling out the FAFSA and provides tips
to help you fill out the application.
Completing your taxes early will help you get a jump on the FAFSA because you'll
need that information to complete the FAFSA. You can estimate the amounts using
data from previous tax years, but you'll need to correct the amounts on the form
later by going to the corrections page on the FAFSA Web site.
If you apply online, your application will be processed faster and will likely
be more accurate because the FAFSA Web site is designed to catch common errors.
The online application also provides worksheets that will calculate amounts and enter
them into the field for you. It also allows you to skip questions that are not
relative to your unique situation. You can save and continue the FAFSA at any
time online and then sign your application electronically using a personal
identification number (PIN) which you can get from the Federal Student Aid PIN
Making mistakes on your FAFSA could delay your application and possibly make you
lose out on some financial aid. The most common errors people make are listed
below. As you complete the FAFSA try to avoid these errors.
- Leaving blank fields–enter a '0' or 'not applicable' instead of leaving a
blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
- Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields–always round to the
- Listing incorrect Social Security Number or Driver's license number–check
these entries and have someone else check them too. Triple check to be sure.
- Entering the wrong federal income tax paid amount–obtain your federal
income paid amount from your income tax return forms, not your W-2 form(s).
- Listing Adjusted Gross Income as equal to total income–these are not the
same figure. In most cases, the AGI is larger than the total income. This
mistake is particularly common.
- Listing marital status incorrectly–only write yes if you're currently
married. They want to know what you're marital status is on the day you sign the
FAFSA, or Renewal FAFSA.
- Listing parent marital status incorrectly–the custodial parent's marital
status is needed; if they've remarried, you'll need the stepparent's information
- Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank–If you're unsure
about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA instead of leaving it
blank. A conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
- Forgetting to list the college–obtain the Federal School Code for the
college you plan on attending and list it–along with any other schools to which
- Forgetting to sign and date–if you're filling out the paper FAFSA, be
sure to sign it. If you're filing electronically, be sure to obtain your PIN
Your PIN is your electronic signature and will always be assigned to you only.
- Entering the wrong address–your permanent address is not your campus or
- Sending in a copy of your income tax returns–you will be contacted if
your information needs verification; you don't need to send a copy of your tax
returns in with your application.
Much of the financial information you need to provide is on your tax forms.
Completing your taxes early can make the application process easier because
you'll have the financial information you need in one place. You can estimate
your financial information using previous tax years and correct the amounts on
the form later by going to the corrections page on the FAFSA Web site. If you
are not required to file taxes you still have to fill out a FAFSA to get
Here is a list of materials that will help you complete the FAFSA:
- Your Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)
- Your driver's license (if any)
- Your W-2 Forms for the previous year and other records of money earned
- Your (and your spouse's, if you are married) most recent Federal Income Tax
Return – IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040Telefile, foreign tax return, or tax
return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the
Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia
- Your parent's Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year (if you are a
dependent student as defined by federal criteria)
- Your current bank statements
- Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm
records, stock, bond, and other investment records
- Documentation that you are a U.S. permanent resident or other eligible
Filling out the Pre-Application Worksheet will help you collect and proofread
the information for your application before you submit it. There are resources
available if you decide you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA Web
site, or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED AID
(1-800-433-3243). Financial aid administrators across the country also
participate in free FAFSA events to help applicants fill out the form
accurately. Look for a FAFSA event in your area to get free, professional
assistance to fill out the FAFSA.