With the new year comes the not-so-appealing, but critically important task, of filling out the annual FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
No single form is more important when it comes to applying for financial aid for college. It’s your first — and likely best — shot at obtaining some form of financial aid, whether its federal student loans, scholarships or other grants.
For the 2016–17 year, you can apply between Jan. 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. There are a few federal student aid programs that have limited funds, so be sure to apply as soon as you can, U.S. education officials say.
An estimated 2 million students who are enrolled in college and would be eligible for a Pell Grant never applied for aid, and an unknown number failed to enroll in college because they did not know that aid is available, according to a White House statement in September announcing FAFSA changes that will make filling out the online form easier. Those changes won’t take affect until after the 2016-2017 school year starts.
For now, filling out the form has the same challenges for both students and parents.
Here is rundown of the most common FAFSA mistakes, according to a blog post from the U.S. Education Department.
1. Not Completing the FAFSA.
As previously mentioned, many college student don’t even bother or don’t understand about the importance of FAFSA. Writes Nicole Callahan, a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid: “I hear all kinds of reasons: ‘The FAFSA is too hard,’ ‘It takes too long to complete,’ ‘I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?’ It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA, you are missing the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes little time to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.”
2. Not Using the Correct Website
The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov. That’s .gov. You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA.
3. Not Getting an FSA ID Ahead of Time
Students and parents can no longer use a Federal Student Aid PIN to log in and sign the FAFSA online. Instead, they ust use the new FSA ID — a username and password. Once you register for an FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA.
4. Waiting to Fill Out The FAFSA Until After You File Taxes
Says Callahan: “Because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s important to fill out the FAFSA early. However, the 2016–17 FAFSA is available beginning January 1, 2016, well before most people have their 2015 taxes filed. This, however, shouldn’t stop you from getting the FAFSA submitted. If your income from 2014 is similar to your income from 2015, you can use your 2014 taxes to estimate the financial information on the FAFSA and get it submitted now.” Starting next year, those filling out FAFSA can use the previous year’s federal tax returns for income-reporting purposes.
5. Not Filing by the Deadline
States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA deadlines. To maximize the amount of your financial aid, you should fill out your FAFSA (and any other financial aid applications that may be required by your state or school), by the earliest of these three deadlines, if not sooner!
Read more from Callahan’s blog post here.