October 1. This is the day you should have been preparing for. The 2020-2021 FAFSA filing season. As a parent or guardian, the FAFSA is key to getting first-come, first-serve financial aid to assist your student (and your pockets, too).
High school graduates missed out on $2.3 billion in federal aid in 2017 because they didn’t fill out the FAFSA. You don’t want to be on the list this year. Parents with kids already in college already know how important it is to fill out that form but often forget. It's not a myth - certain schools have “on-time” deadlines that could severely affect the amount of aid you receive.
Here are a few tips:
Create an FSA ID at https://fsaid.ed.gov. This gives you access to the Federal Student Aid online system, and can also serve as your legal signature.
DOCUMENTS YOU'LL NEED
Have the following documents handy – social security numbers, driver’s license, your most recent income tax returns, W-2s and other records where you’ve earned money. That includes bank statements, any investments and untaxed income (if it applies). Are you a dependent student? You need this information on your parents. For those who are not U.S. citizens, you’ll need your Alien Registration Number.
FILING THE APPLICATION
Go to fafsa.ed.gov and file the application. Click on “Start a New FAFSA” and follow the directions. This should take about 30 minutes.
A lot of people don’t file the FAFSA because they think they may not qualify. It doesn’t matter. File anyway. The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll know the EFC (expected family contribution), which helps when comparing schools and anticipated costs. You must fill out the FAFSA every year.
Common Errors to Avoid
Mistakes on the FAFSA can delay the application and limit the amount of aid you may receive. Here are a few things to remember:
- Blank fields. Don’t leave too many of these, as it could result in miscalculations or a rejection. Enter a ‘0’ or ‘not applicable’ instead.
- Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Always round your figure to the nearest dollar.
- Listing an incorrect Social Security or driver’s license number. Check and recheck to make sure your numbers are accurate.
- Use your legal name. The name on your FAFSA must match the name on your Social Security card.
- Federal income tax paid. Make sure you are using the amount on your income tax return forms and not the amount on your W-2.
- Listing the wrong AGI. Your Adjusted Gross Income may not be the same as your total income from working. In most cases, the AGI is larger.
- Incorrectly filing as head of household. If you do this, you will have to amend the tax return with the IRS. This could delay determining financial aid.
- Incorrectly listing marital status. Whatever your marital status is on the day you fined the FAFSA, this is what you must list on the form. If it is incorrect, it WILL get red-flagged.
- Incorrect listing parent marital status. The same applies here. If the custodial parent has remarried, you must include the stepparent’s information on the FAFSA.
- Failing to list both parents if they live together. If both your legal parents live in the same house, you must list both on the FAFSA even if they aren’t married.
- Failing to list unborn children. If you have a child that will be born before or during the award year and you're providing more than half of their support, the child should be counted as a member of the household.
- Failing to count yourself as a student. The student completing the FAFSA must count themselves as a member of the household attending college during the award year.
- Selective Service. If you are a male aged 18 to 26, you must register with Selective Service. If not, you won’t be eligible for federal student aid.
- Failing to list the college. Have the Federal School Code handy for the schools you plan on attending and list it on the form.
- SIGN AND DATE. Whether paper or electronic, this is a step you cannot miss.
There are a lot of moving parts, but doing it correctly the first time will help your student be first in line to receive aid. Good luck!