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11 Common FAFSA Errors

Feb 17, 2023

Do you need clarification about the paperwork involved with applying for college? FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications are one of the most important components of any college admissions process, but the rules can be complex. Even when organized correctly and filled out completely, mistakes on your application could cost you in terms of eligibility for financial aid, grants, or scholarships. 

The FAFSA is an important form that determines your eligibility for federal, state, and school-based funds to cover higher education costs. FAFSA data helps inform decision-making on who receives grants and loans. A student must fill out the FAFSA to receive financial aid from federal or state programs. Completing this form is a critical part of preparing for college. It can be the difference between affording a higher education and foregoing such an opportunity due to financial hardship. It also serves as one of many significant steps students take toward graduation. Understanding the FAFSA can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Read on to find out how to avoid these common errors on your form.

1. Not Filing the FAFSA Form by the Deadline

Missing the FAFSA form deadline can have expensive consequences. Many states have earlier deadlines for applying for state financial aid. If you will be applying for state financial aid, it is recommended you check with the state agency about its FAFSA deadlines. Undoubtedly, applying for college financial aid takes planning and time, so procrastinating is not recommended. In some instances, missing the deadline may mean you cannot access certain funds, such as grants or scholarships. Furthermore, it could eliminate your eligibility for special loans with lower interest rates and amenable repayment plans.

Potential students should check with their financial aid office to find out their exact due dates and when late fees may apply. While a few students might get lucky and still receive some funding if they miss the FAFSA form deadline, others may experience setbacks from which it could be challenging to recover. To ensure that you stay on top of important timelines, like the FAFSA form deadline, try using a physical calendar or setting a phone reminder.

2. Completing the Wrong Aid Year's Application

It’s important to understand which aid year you need to be applying for. Determine when you want to start school, and what aid year you need to apply for as a result. The deadline is June 30th every year, but it’s important to understand the timing for the different school years. Example: For the 2022-23 award year, you can complete the FAFSA form between October 1, 2021 and June 30, 2023. For the 2023-24 award year you can complete the FAFSA form between October 1, 2022 and June 30, 2024. Be aware that the FAFSA form will default to a certain year, but you’ll want to verify that is the year you want to apply for.

3. Not Registering for an FSA ID

Not registering for an FSA (federal student aid) ID could have serious repercussions, from preventing potential students from attending college to losing out on crucial financial aid opportunities. Signing up for an account is free, and the process only takes a few minutes. Once registered, you'll access codes that can be used to fill out your FAFSA. Students who file as independent need to create an FSA ID to complete and sign the FAFSA, while students who file as dependents, and their parents, each need to create an FSA ID in order to complete and sign the FAFSA. Since the FSA ID is connected to an applicant's Social Security number, parents who previously created one as a student do not need to make another account. An FSA ID can also access tax information and check student loan history. Without registering, you won't be able to receive federal financial aid even if you qualify for it, which is why it's so important.

4. Using an Incorrect Social Security Number

When completing a FAFSA form for college, it is essential to ensure accuracy when inputting Social Security numbers. Submitting an incorrect number could make it challenging to track loans, scholarships, and other aid. In some cases, if a school discovers that the wrong Social Security number was used, they may reject the application. Double-check your Social Security number before submitting it to avoid any issues with your financial aid forms. Additionally, students who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents with a Social Security number can use "000-00-0000" when completing the form.

5. Leaving the Questions Blank

It is strongly discouraged to leave questions blank on your FAFSA form. Although it may be tempting to skip over a difficult or potentially embarrassing question, doing so can lead to costly delays in receiving the financial aid you need for school. You could find yourself without assistance while waiting for corrections or additional information. It's much better to take the time upfront and answer all of the questions completely and accurately. Even if a particular question doesn't apply, you should still put an answer of "not applicable" to show that you have read it thoroughly and tried to provide information when needed. Leaving no questions blank will pave the way for quicker processing of your FAFSA application and allow you to start concentrating on furthering your education.

6. Not Listing the Schools You'll Apply To

While many students consider applying to several schools, it's important to remember that only listing one school on your FAFSA can affect the types of financial aid and awards you're offered. You may also miss deadlines when only filling out the form for one school. Some grants and scholarships only have limited numbers of awards available, and deadlines vary from institution to institution. Applicants can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA and four on the paper version. Ultimately, research all options and review each upcoming deadline carefully before deciding which schools you'll list on your FAFSA. Doing so could mean taking advantage of vital financial aid opportunities that could significantly reduce college costs.  

WGU’s school code is 033394. It’s ideal to list WGU first in order to make sure your info is sent.

7. Not Reading Definitions Carefully

When filling out your FAFSA, it's essential to read carefully. It may take a little extra time and effort but can save you from considerable consequences later down the line. Misinterpreting the FAFSA’s language can lead to errors on the form, resulting in an incorrect allotment of funds or, worse, delaying your application process altogether. Understanding what words like "dependent," "independent," and "net worth" mean could ultimately be the difference between a speedy application process and an extended battle with bureaucracy. Don't let yourself fall into any missteps; take your time and read all definitions thoroughly before answering any questions on the FAFSA. 

8. Not Renewing the FAFSA Each Year

Renewing the FAFSA yearly is crucial if you plan to attend college. Failure to renew the FAFSA annually may result in fewer funds awarded, which could cause an undue financial burden. Staying on top of the FAFSA renewal process is essential to successful college funding opportunities. Even if you have received your financial aid award package, you are still recommended to renew your FAFSA. Doing so may provide additional grant or loan money based on recent changes in family circumstances or new school year cost estimations. Be sure to check with your university's financial aid office for more details about how and when to renew your FAFSA each year.

9. Reporting Other Incorrect Information

Providing incorrect information when reporting on your FAFSA not only jeopardizes the accuracy of the application but can also have severe consequences such as disqualifying you from federal aid or penalties like steep fines or even criminal charges. Always take your time and get as much help as needed to ensure that your personal information matches your government ID and documents, like your birth certificate and Social Security number, so that you stay eligible for grants, financial aid, and scholarships. 

10. Not Signing Your Application

Failure to sign your FAFSA after submitting it could lead to delays in processing. This could mean being unable to access loans, grants, and other financial aid opportunities that you might have qualified for. Even if you initially indicated your intention to file for financial aid, it will not be considered valid unless it is signed. To ensure that there are no delays in processing your FAFSA, review and sign it before submitting it. With proper preparation and accurate submission of your FAFSA, you can maximize your chances of getting approved for available funding.

11. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)

Filling out the FAFSA requires time and effort, making the IRS data retrieval tool (DRT) an attractive solution for sourcing necessary information. However, there are some circumstances in which you should not use this tool, and instead source the required federal and state tax information manually. Visa holders, international students whose parents do not have Social Security numbers, and taxpayers who have recently filed amendments may find themselves in a situation where manual tax data entry is preferable. It is always best to speak with a financial advisor if you have any questions about which method of filing will work best for your individual case.

In Conclusion

These are just a few of the most common errors students make when completing the FAFSA. To ensure that you receive the most aid possible, take your time to read and review your FAFSA information carefully before beginning. If you need help filling out your FAFSA or have any additional questions, contact WGU's tuition and financial aid department for assistance.

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