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5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Filling Out the FAFSA

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By Reyna Gobel
Contributor to Forbes

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important thing most families can do to get last-minute college funding help.  That’s why over 20 million people filled it out last year. However, there are big mistakes families can make that can cost them oodles of money.

These are five of the most costly mistakes families can make in regards to filling out the FAFSA:

1. Not filling it out.

Families who have decided that they don’t want to fill out the FAFSA because they think it’s the fast track to student loan borrowing may cause themselves to have to get into more debt to pay their children’s college education. Why? The information contained on FAFSA is sent to schools and is often used to help determine need-based scholarships and state and university grant eligibility. Not filling out the FAFSA is basically telling colleges and universities, “I’d rather pay for college by myself. Thank you.”

2. Not paying attention to the time frame.

Scholarships have deadlines, but also some financial aid, such as university and state grants, may be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis among those who qualify. The 2015 FAFSA season began January 1. However, you can apply or make changes, such as changing school picks, later. At least your information will have already been processed by the federal government. Also, remember you won’t have 2014 tax information just yet at the beginning of the year. Estimate it. If you fill out the FAFSA later in the year, there is an auto-fill-in option on the form to download IRS information.

Time frame is important for renewal FAFSAs for continuing college students, too.

3. Naming schools in the wrong order or not at all.

According to Martha Holler, spokesperson for Sallie Mae, you could miss out on state aid, such as grants, if you don’t name state schools first in the list of schools you’d like to receive your financial information. Whether the order makes a difference in your state varies, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and list state schools you’re considering first. This doesn’t mean private schools on your list will review your numbers any differently. The order won’t matter to the individual schools you picked at all.

4. Closing out the confirmation page before reading it.

Your Expected Family Contribution, the number that may determine how much aid you’ll receive, will be forwarded to you by email after completing the form. However, DON’T CLOSE OUT THE CONFIRMATION PAGE BEFORE READING IT FULLY! Why? According to Holler, the confirmation page contains important information on the schools you picked to receive your financial information, including graduation rates, transfer rates, and retention rates. Plus, there are links to fill out additional information for other kids and additional forms that may be required by your state. Open links in new tabs if you need to click on more than one link. The easiest way to do that is to right-click the link. Then choose Open in New Tab.

5. Not making adjustments.

If you change your mind about which schools you’re applying to, log back in to the FAFSA site and change your school information. You don’t want to miss out on scholarships, grants, or other financial aid, simply because you didn’t list the school you’ll actually attend. If family income drops, this information needs to be amended on the form, too. Once it’s too late to amend income information on the FAFSA, changes can be made at the school by filling out a special circumstances form.

For further reading on mistakes made on the FAFSA, check out the Department of Education’s article 7 Common FAFSA Mistakes. For further reading on paying for college, checkout New Year’s Tips for College Savings,  Scholarships and Financial Aid for Veterans and Their Families, and 5 Myths About Paying For College Without Student Loans

 

This article was written by Reyna Gobel from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

 

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