The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a tool students use to apply for more than $120 billion in federal funds. Unfortunately, each year many students miss out. A report from NerdWallet estimates that $1,861 per eligible high school graduate of free federal grant money went unused during 2014 because they did not complete a FAFSA.
Even if you don’t think you or your child qualify for federal aid, filling out a FAFSA is important because it could be used to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid and private funds.
FAFSA available Oct. 1
Previously, the FAFSA was not available until January. A recent change now makes the application available Oct. 1. This is because the 2018-19 FAFSA can be completed with your 2016 tax information.
Avoid FAFSA mistakes
Don’t forgo federal student aid by making one of the following common filing mistakes:
Mistake: Not reading the instructions or questions
Tip: Answer all the questions, even if the answer is zero. If left blank, a question will be considered unanswered. Here are some quick tips:
- Write dollar amounts without cents.
- “You” and “your” refer to the student, not the parents.
- Provide parent information if you or your child is considered a dependent of someone else.
- Understand the definitions of key FAFSA language including: legal guardianship, parent and household size.
- Use the available FAQs and FAFSA Information Center.
Mistake: Incorrect, incomplete or nonmatching data
Tip: Complete the FAFSA online. Although you can complete the FAFSA on paper, it takes only three to five days to process when submitted electronically. The online version has built-in safeguards that identify and prevent many errors. Plus, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can import information directly from your tax return. Logging in with a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID will automatically load basic information (e.g., name, birthdate, and Social Security number), reducing the likelihood of typos. You’ll even receive confirmation of receipt once you submit your online application.
Mistake: Not filing on time
Tip: Note the new October FAFSA filing start date and get the application submitted as soon as possible. The sooner you or your child gets started, the higher the likelihood of being awarded funds, since many are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Remember, students need to complete a FAFSA each year because eligibility does not carry over and can vary based on circumstances. Students can use the FAFSA Web Worksheet now to gather and organize the data needed for their application, available at www.fafsa.gov.