10 FAFSA Mistakes that Affect Financial Aid

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Errors can cause you to lose out on financial aid dollars!

Shawna Newman, October 08, 2020


Avoid these 10 common FAFSA mistakes and optimize your financial aid potential.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is a form required by the federal and state governments as well as colleges for students that wish to qualify for financial aid or federal work study programs.


Outside of scholarships, financial aid is the most helpful way to pay for school, and it’s not just for those that can demonstrate financial need. The FASFA application asks questions about a student’s personal and family financial circumstances in order to determine how much they can pay for college.


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A mistake on your FAFSA can delay the processing of your application for financial aid. If your FAFSA is verified and contains errors, it can cost you.


Avoid the most common FAFSA mistakes:


  • Leaving a field blank.

If the answer is zero or the question does not apply to you, write in a zero. If you leave a question blank, the processor will assume that you forgot to answer.


  • Not using the 1040 federal tax return for income reporting and reporting taxes paid.

If you use your W-2 and 1099 forms, compare them with the prior year’s income tax return to make sure you did not overlook any source of income. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) is also helpful in preventing errors. It can be used to copy the answers to some FAFSA questions directly from your federal income tax return.


  • Forgetting to report all the required sources of untaxed income.

These include veterans’ noneducation benefits, child support and workers compensation/disability income.


  • Not reporting both parents’ financial information If your parents are divorced.

Your stepparent’s financial information must be reported in addition to the financial information for your custodial parent.


  • Excluding yourself from household size.

Even if you didn’t live there during the previous year, you should always include yourself as part of your parent’s household.


  • Not signing the application.

If you’re filing as a dependent, both you and your parents must sign. If you file online, you and your parents can sign the form electronically using your FSA ID.


  • Filing late.

Remember to file on time. Priority for programs with limited funds is often given to students filing the FAFSA as soon as possible once it’s released. The FAFSA has a 21-month application cycle. Meaning the 2021-2022 FAFSA deadline for the form just released on October 1 is June 30, 2022, to qualify for federal student aid.


  • Not knowing your state’s financial aid deadline.

State deadlines for financial aid and grants vary; some states award their grants on a first-come, first-served basis.


  • Skimming questions or dismissing directions.

Read the instructions and questions carefully. If you’re unclear about a question or are having trouble filling out the FAFSA, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA website. You can also contact your financial aid office.


  • Failing to create your FSA ID before you start the form.

You need this to complete the form, make corrections and to electronically sign. Students and parents need their own separate FSA IDs to officially complete the FAFSA.


To avoid FAFSA mistakes, get started early and use the online version of the FAFSA. As you start the form, use the FAFSA checklist to insure you’ve gathered all the necessary information.


A correct FAFSA form can be your best asset in securing financial aid to pay for college, in addition to college scholarships.


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