FAFSA Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Student Aid

If you need help completing your FAFSA, you can now schedule a FAFSA application virtual help session.

The best way to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is early and online. The FAFSA is primarily designed to assess eligibility for federal student aid, but many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for nonfederal student aid funds.

Remember that there are sometimes early deadlines for nonfederal student aid and that there is limited funding for some types of nonfederal student aid. Turning your FAFSA in early could earn you limited nonfederal aid funds that may not be available if you delay. 

Completing your taxes early will help you get a jump on the FAFSA because you'll need that information to complete the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval tool can be used to pull accurate information directly from the IRS from taxes that have already been filed.

Making mistakes on your FAFSA could delay your application and possibly make you lose out on some financial aid. The most common errors people make are listed below. As you complete the FAFSA try to avoid these errors.

  • Leaving blank fields – enter a '0' or 'not applicable' instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields – always round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing incorrect social security number or driver's license number – check these entries and have someone else check them too. Triple check to be sure.
  • Entering the wrong federal income tax paid amount – obtain your federal income paid amount from your income tax return forms, not your W-2 form(s).
  • Listing Adjusted Gross Income as equal to total income – these are not the same figure. In most cases, the AGI is larger than the total income. This mistake is particularly common.
  • Listing marital status incorrectly – only write yes if you're currently married. They want to know what you're marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA, or Renewal FAFSA.
  • Listing parent marital status incorrectly – the custodial parent's marital status is needed; if they've remarried, you'll need the stepparent's information too.
  • Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank – If you're unsure about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA instead of leaving it blank. A conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
  • Forgetting to list the college – obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it–along with any other schools to which you've applied.
  • Forgetting to sign and date – If you are filling out an application electronically, you will need to create an FSA ID at https://studentaid.gov/. Your FSA ID is used to confirm your identity when accessing your financial aid information and electronically signing your federal student aid documents. Only create an FSA ID using your own personal information and for your own exclusive use. For more information about an FSA ID, please visit the Federal Student Aid ID website.
  • Entering the wrong address – your permanent address is not your campus or summer address.
  • Sending in a copy of your income tax returns – you will be contacted if your information needs verification; you don't need to send a copy of your tax returns in with your application. If selected for verification we would need verification documents along with tax return transcripts (copies of tax returns are not sufficient).

Additional Tips

Much of the financial information you need to provide is on your tax forms. It is important to file your taxes prior to completing your FAFSA, since doing this can make the application process easier because you'll have the financial information you need in one place. When completing the application, it is advised to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you choose to use the Retrieval Tool, the information from your taxes will be retrieved directly from the IRS and added to your application. However, you can input the information manually if you have your completed tax forms available.

Here is a list of materials that will help you complete the FAFSA:

  • Your social security number (can be found on social security card)
  • Your driver's license (if any)
  • Your W-2 forms for the previous year and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse's, if you are married) most recent Federal Income Tax Return – IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040Telefile, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Your parent's Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year (if you are a dependent student as defined by federal criteria)
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records
  • Documentation that you are a U.S. permanent resident or other eligible noncitizen.

Filling out the Pre-Application Worksheet will help you collect and proofread the information for your application before you submit it. There are resources available if you decide you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA website, or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4 FED AID (1-800-433-3243). Financial aid administrators across the country also participate in free FAFSA events to help applicants fill out the form accurately. Look for a FAFSA event in your area to get free, professional assistance to fill out the FAFSA.