7 Common FAFSA Mistakes

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12 Common FAFSA Mistakes

  1. Not Completing the FAFSA®

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes to long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter.” It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA, you are missing out on the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes most people 21 minutes 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.

  1. Not Being Prepared

The online FAFSA has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. We’ve added skip logic, so you only see questions that are applicable to you. There is also an option to import your tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA application. But, the key to making the FAFSA simple is being prepared. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by gathering everything you need to complete the FAFSA before you start the application.

  1. Not Reading Carefully

You’re on winter break and probably enjoying a vacation from reading for a couple weeks. I get it. But when it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each question carefully. Too many students see delays in their financial aid for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

Don’t rush through these questions:

  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how your or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number.
  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Income tax is not the same as income. It is the amount of tax that you (and if married, your spouse) paid on your income earned from work. Your income tax amount should not be the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). Where you find the amount of your income tax depends on which IRS form you filed.

Tip: If you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, this number will be pulled for you, directly from your income tax return.

  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.
  1. Inputting Incorrect Information

The FAFSA is an official government form. You must enter your information as it appears on official government documents like your birth certificate and social security card. Examples:

  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on official government documents. No nicknames.
  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross check your social security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have a SSN, follow these instructions.
  1. Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether or not you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

Bonus: Who is my parent when I fill out the FAFSA?


  1. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering in the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This year, the tool will launch on February 1, 2015. In most cases, your information will be available from the IRS two weeks after you file. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent errors on your FAFSA and avoid any processing delays.

Tip: If you used income estimates to file your FAFSA early, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your FAFSA two weeks after you file your 2014 taxes.

  1. Not Signing the FAFSA

So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their PIN and submit it. This happens for many reasons, maybe they forgot their PIN, or their parent isn’t with them to sign with the parent PIN, so the FAFSA is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t have or don’t know your PIN, apply for one. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.


  1. Does anyone out there know of any colleges or organizations that provide free laptops for college students?

  2. FASFA is Required for getting into college. I couldn’t fill FASFA because at my age I was considered a dependent but had a dysfunctional parent that didn’t get to it for a years. Then they moved out of state and even though I wanted to move back to my home state , I would have been considered a dependent to someone out of state and not allowed to use my state scholarship.

    I was an honors student with a 3.5 gpa, and couldn’t get through the process alone without risking some illegal filing I feared. 3 different scholarships I lost because of needing parental signatures.

    It’s a huge disadvantage for young adults to need their parents when embarking. In some scenarios kids might be able to file as an independent once they do get to campus using their scholarships because it would provide enough income or they qualify for job programs, but unfortunately the FASFA process comes first. However even that way is only a possibility if you opt to go through legal emancipation and if the state still allows it after age 18 ( which most states make those cases very difficult and the cost is high).

    It’s a huge disadvantage to young adults with difficult parent or not living at home.

    Because it’s one of the first government filings a student has to do and is overwhelming for kids who grew up without help. Parents aren’t always collaborable. Some don’t like tax forms.

    I waited until the age of independence ( which changed a number of times) to try to go school, but by that time my state scholarship expired. Some parents continue claiming their kids as dependents which means they have to do the FASFA filing even if the student has reached the age where they can file for themselves.

    FASFA would have never granted me anything anyway.

    If I foresaw that I’d miss going straight to school , I would have worked on divorcing my parents from 9th grade, or dropped out and got life experience. Years of being hung up , I never got to go.

    (Btw if college looks at a student as a dependent by age alone and the state grants a scholarship, why can’t they transfer the scholarship if the parent moves and a “dependent” has to move with them? )

    Btw I’m legal. Anyway I really hope thing changed for others who may lose out.

  3. What I don’t agree with is that *regardless of whether your parents are citizens or not* statement. I’m sorry folks, but I want my taxes to go to the people who are legal citizens of this country, not another.

  4. I haven’t had to fill out a form in about 5-10 years (at some point my daughter took over) so maybe it is easier. But, at the time, I found it very hard to fill out and hated every second of it. No, we got no aid and I had a modest middle class income. In fact, when I went to the high school parent’s help session, they said we should fill it out for various reasons, including that is how we would get loans, but they also informed us that no one in the room that day was likely to get any aid. So, I am grateful I will not have to find out if this article is correct, but, I really don’t believe it takes 21 minutes. Could be wrong, of course.

    • In reply to David, if you truly have a “modest middle class income”, then your daughter will certainly get help in the form of a subsidized student loan. If you were looking for grants, though, I think your income has to be pretty low for that, but the loans are helpful. Also, thanks to the FAFSA function that brings in your tax info automatically, it really does not take that long to fill out each year. I had a much harder time with my state form, and gave up on that after the first year, as it led to nothing anyway.

  5. I have a soon to be 20 yr old getting her associates this year. A senior soon to be graduating and will enroll into community college and fafsa gave each child a pel grant and loan for 4000. I can’t complain some is better then none. So I applied myself and was offered more . So I will too start college this year! I have a house hold size of 7 and both my husband and I work. I just wish more resources were available. We are raising our kids well and letting them know the importance of education. But with 2 college students this fall plus myself I don’t even want to think about the year cost. It will be nice if the price of education was NOT so pricey! I wish to have purchased laptops as gifts for my girls senior graduation, my biology major – getting her associates. But we are pinching pennies so we don’t have too struggle when my other 3 children start college. Because who knows fafsa may not even be able to even pay a small portion of first year when it comes their turn to enroll. So I appreciate what I can get for now because we all have to start somewhere. Thank you

    • Just an fyi, but laptops purchased for school can be used as a deduction with the hope education credit (it’s not hope anymore, but i forget the name now)

      • Actually no, computers can only be used if they are required by the school for a specific reason, such as a photography course requiring a macbook or ipad. This must be in writing by the school as part of the course requirements along with the text books. Otherwise just buying a laptop, tablet, or computer, even if used to complete school work, cannot be included in qualified expenses for the American Opportunity Credit (which replaced the Hope Credit). The key is that the expenses are required for enrollment. See IRS Publication 970, page 12. “For purposes of the American opportunity credit, qualified education expenses are tuition and certain related expenses
        required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution.”

    • Have you tried your state’s (or any state’s) 529 tuition account fund? For your younger 3 children, you can start saving in that. You can put in an amount each month if that is easier, and you are essentially buying tomorrow’s college credits at today’s prices. It can save you on your state taxes, too, and you can use it for anything college related when the time comes (laptops, room & board, tuition, etc.) FAFSA is just one piece of the puzzle for affording college. With that many kids, you need to look into other things, including putting some money aside ahead of time.

  6. Our daughter received no aid because of our income. We understand that. But to tell us we MUST fill out the FAFSA so she can be eligible is a joke. She won’t EVER be eligible. So just why are we required to file this idiotic piece of information?

    • At my son’s college he is required to fill out FAFSA to be eligible for other school scholarships. He did earn a small scholarship for academic performance to apply to his second term of school. So even though FAFSA didn’t directly help it indirectly got him a scholarship.

      • I agree with you, Susan. My daughter’s school also requires her to fill it out every year and she too received a scholarship from the school. There were even additional scholarships that came along, that were established by alumni for specific majors/years, and they would not have been offered had we not filled out the FAFSA. It doesn’t take that long, as long as you use the tax return auto-fill function (or whatever that’s called).

    • Chris, I share your frustration. We too filled out the FASFA after much urging by everyone. Our son is currently a college freshman and this was our first time around with this process. What a joke! Our report showed that we should be able to pay way more than the cost of tuition, room and board! We are business owners, middle class, certainly not even close to being wealthy. Like many people in our situation we work hard and make sound financial decisions and try to keep our heads above water. Paying for college is a struggle. We will never fill this out again, and we will figure out how to pay for college without it.

    • I agree Chris. We had the same issue with our daughter. It’s one big joke! If we were not middle class working people, she would be eligible for much more.

    • It’s way too much parental involvement at a time when they shouldn’t need it.

      How on earth does this work for low income kids with parents who skip taxes? The kid did all they could to qualify for a new life and it’s like the paperwork still excludes you especially if you’re from a dysfunctional background.

  7. I’m just curious if there is a limit to the amount of Government money that goes to the school the child is accepted to. Example: my son was accepted to a number of schools and the total costs ranged from $20,000 to over $60,000 per year. If he attends the $60,000 school and we qualify for “aid”, is that school eligible to receive more Federal money than the $20,000 school? I guess what I’m asking is if a school can declare any price it likes for a year’s tuition based on what it determines as it’s credentials, does the Government then pay more as well for those credentials?

    • If you choose a 60000 dollar college you need to have your head examined. If it’s not Harvard pick a big public university in a red state. Way cheaper and the education is almost as good, especially in a stem field. If he wants a liberal arts degree he should go to community college and learn how to teach high school.

  8. I’m a single mother who raised two, both graduates of CAL in last 6 years. They qualified for minor assistance the one year both were attending. Completing the FASFA was worth it. Many times fretted about the costs yet somehow got them through. Both worked part time. What irked me to no end were the situations where the FASFA income was abused. Selecting the parent with no income or the lowest income when completing the FASFA (this loophole needs to be closed!). Parents who spent their savings on autos or paid down mortgages so that they would have less savings to report. Parents who chose to work part time, maintaining a lower level of income to qualify for funds. And, parents who own real estate who treated the income as if a schedle C rather than an E. Junior college is an excellent way to start, if a 4-year is burdensome.

    • Using your savings to pay off debts before filing out the FAFSA is not cheating or a loophole (as you suggest), it’s smart. And you no longer have that money if you pay bills you owe! Withdrawing it and giving it to someone to hold would be cheating the system. But paying your debts is what the FAFSA experts suggest!

  9. First timer, and my child is a minor. I’m still confused by “Number in Household”. Is the child both 1 member of his own household, and 1 member of his parents’ household? So his household (which exists only for FAFSA) has a different size than the household he is part of (himself and parents and siblings.)

  10. The rules of supply and demand will eventually take hold with college expenses. The cost is completely out of control , just like the health care costs. Until everyone stops feeding it money they will continue to raise the cost at multiples of the cost of living. And yes the cost of living index needs food and fuel added to its calculation. How many out there are not effected by food and fuel costs?

  11. Fyi, o had my son apply online for FAFSA grants and it kept on denying him for our income reasons… we have 4 kids.. my husband may make over $200k.. but with 4 kid plus myself as a dependent.. that’s a lot of mouths to feed, either way.

    • Per Gary Reeber, ” If you’re in a family of four, and your family’s income surpasses $66,000 a year, you’re doing better than the typical American family. If you’re making six figures, then you’re doing much better than the typical American family. If you’re making $200,000 or more, you’re in truly rarified territory.” I realize that an income of over $200,000 does not make you rich when you consider that you have 4 children, but you absolutely positively should not qualify for federal financial aide! This aide is for people who have a true financial need. I know I do not want my tax dollars going toward sending a child to college whose household income is double my own and quadruple that of the typical American family.

    • unless you are disabled and cannot work, it would seem strange to list yourself as a dependent, especially for financial aid to your family. your husbands income is extraordinary, and I for one, am glad you cant delve into others pockets…

  12. sorry but this is hard to believe – both when I went to college, grad school and now for my kid. My EFC is my entire net pay for a year.

    • The EFC is a joke. 2 kids in college and we need to come up with over $30,000. We make just over $100 between the 2 of us. That’s realistic…

  13. I think I made a huge mistake last year with the question about investments and 401k, I didn’t understand what to enter. I think our medical bills should be accounted for as well – Last year, I had a large bill I had to payoff monthly. We really need to find a way to bring down the price for college. I have a daughter at NAU and my son will be starting in the fall. Not sure where yet. Price for this education is unfair. My daughter’s “professors” are not very professional !! Cancel class too many times! Book prices are criminal!! Food is mediocre.

  14. I’m 29, I’ve only been able to file for the FAFSA since I was 24 when I legally became independent because the people who raised me wouldn’t give me any of their info for the forms…I’m biologically related to one, the other is his spouse…you parents who complain that you have to give info to help your children…I wish I had that help…If you don’t want to help your children get whatever help the gov’t will give, then don’t have them file for the FAFSA. Force them to do it completely on their own until they turn 24 when it won’t matter anymore…
    Wow…either give them the info and shut up, or tell them they have to wait until they turn 24 before they can file for the FAFSA

  15. One’s income is dependent on where a person lives, and the cost of living is varies from state to state. A parent’s income should not be the only consideration of aid by an 18 year old applying for college. My husband and I are helping our daughter with the cost of college, but if the cost is more than what we can give, she will need to rely on federal aid and loans. (Mind you, she is not applying for any private colleges, but with room and board, she’s looking at an annual cost of $25K.) We are not depleting our retirement funds so that she can go to college, and she needs to apply for loans so that in the event that my husband or I are unable to work for any unforeseen reason, she can continue to go to college. (If she can get $5K-$10K in aid, that would help reduce her loan.) The funding should be made available to ALL students who show a hard work ethic and achieve good grades.

    • If she receives good grades, she could qualify for scholarships to help with her expenses. She can also work to help decrease the amount of loans incurred. I disagree with the statement that funding should be available to all students. Federal aide comes from our tax dollars, and it doesn’t make sense to increase taxes so that families who do not have financial hardships can receive aide. If a person shows a hard work ethic and achieves good grades, then scholarships and employment while enrolled can help with the cost of their education. Also, be realistic about what the college the family can afford. Each college has different expenses. There may be a college closer to home where your daughter could commute if she cannot afford the $25K per year. Hope this helps.

      • I disagree with the view you have. You are okay with increasing taxes of the wealthier people to benefit the less wealthy. Eliminate the politics by making it available to ALL children regardless of means and you’ll find a program supported by more people. Now, you can put limits on how much or what schools are covered. Those very same “wealthy” or top 10% income earners pay nearly 71% of the federal income taxes in the USA. It’s where you get the FAFSA money from. Take this class warfare crap out of the equation and watch the support for such programs grow.

    • Again well stated elle. Dorms r notoriously expensive alright. $2k X 9mos in most cases. My kid moved out after freshmn yr and got a j-o-b…it now costs $900@mo+$100-200 for food. Way less if u sublet out summer months than dorms. It can be done. Also i encouraged my 2nd kid to go to the local JC her first 2 yrs. “Thx but no thx.” Told her she has to get a job and take out loans. Thats the reality.

    • If exceptional grades, glowing recommendations from teachers, participation in many school activities, holding several leadership posts, selfless volunteer work, holding two jobs while in high school, talent and ambition are what it takes to earn large scholarships, then my son would have gotten a full ride. His 3.99 GPA and impressive qualifications earned him 3 scholarships, which we are grateful for, but it was only a drop in the bucket. He applied for many scholarships and was actually told he wasn’t a finalist in some of them because he WORKED in high school, or his parents didn’t have financial need (WHAT?!), or his grades were TOO HIGH, etc. Scholarship after scholarship had “hardship” requirements such as teen pregnancy, drugs, drop out, GPA of 2.5 or LOWER, trouble with the law, etc. We fully believe there is a need for this, but the sheer number of this type of scholarship was shocking. He came home one day after meeting with his guidance counselor about available scholarships and said he should have been a recalcitrant teenager who got in some trouble, got a girl pregnant, got kicked out of school and only got a 2.0 GPA. He felt like all his hard work didn’t matter. He was penalized for being a rule-following, hard-working white male child of a middle class, in-tact family. That leaves very few high-paying scholarships that are based on MERIT and don’t discriminate for race, income or hardship and they are being heavily competed for by many, many kids who truly deserve to be rewarded for their hard work and achievements. My son is now a full-time college freshman, works two jobs and my husband and I work over 60 hours a week each to make ends meet and help support him in college. He wouldn’t be applying for scholarships if we didn’t have financial need.

      • The fafsa is punishing hard working middle class. I did not understand why people buying big house when their kids going to college…to private colleges…. now i understand that they will have more debt and get more aid….unthinkable…

    • The fafsa is punishing hard working middle class. I did not understand why people buying big house when their kids going to college…to private colleges…. now i understand that they will have more debt and get more aid….unthinkable…

  16. My college tuition was roughly $30K per year….FAFSA “awarded” me with just a little over $1,500 per year. That generous “award” is now in repayment to the school. How is this any different than a student loan, besides the fact that I’m making payments to the college as opposed to the banks/government?

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      It’s difficult to provide insight into your situation without knowing what award you were given. A common misconception is that the FAFSA makes awards. The FAFSA provides the EFC which the school uses to determine which awards the school will make available.

      An award, or aid, is any funds not paid directly out of pocket. So loans, including Stafford and Perkins, are aid as well as Pell, FSEOG, etc.

      I hope that help clarify.

  17. My college tuition was roughly $30K per year….FAFSA “awarded” me with just a little over $1,500 per year. That generous “award” is now in repayment to the school. How is this any different than a student loan, besides the fact that I’m making payments to the college as opposed to the banks/government?

  18. State schools here cost $30,000+ and private schools are up to $65,000 per year (tuition, room, board, books). Our household income is $150,000/year and we have 5 kids all in or close to beginning college. I need $125,000 to $260,000 per child x 5 = $625,000 to $1,300,000. FAFSA says I get zero. I have a great job and am very lucky and thankful, but how can anyone afford college under these circumstances?

    • I myself am a current student at the age of 31 with one child. I know that by the time I graduate my son will soon after be attending college, basically while I am paying back my loans. The best advice I could give would be to look into the Gerber college plan. You can get loans and if they doing attend college they may use the money for other things or continue it as a life insurance plan.
      Student aid will consider the children and the amount you already have to pay. The only other way to make it easy for you is to make sure your kids wait till they are 24 and if they have a child already , well they are considered independent.

    • To qualify for ‘zero’ as you say, your expected family contribution must be $95,000 for two children applying (one public, one private) Therefore you must have $880,000 in personal assets. Use them.

  19. I dont get it either. My child is the one going to college, getting the necessary grades to get in on her own. My income shouldnt be a determining factor on her getting financial support, grants, scholarships, or here in GA some kids get more money for the HOPE scholorship that have the same of GPA (3.0) but the parents income is lower than mine. My kids get the grades to earn the Hope Scholarship but are penalized by my income.
    Doesnt make sense.

    • Of course it makes sense to ask how much the student’s parents earn. It is meant to help those who need help not just to give money to anyone who asks for it. It is based on need not want.

      • That’s a very bad assumption. Parents are not legally obligated to pay for college and many don’t regardless of their income levels.

        • Actually, according to the recent judgement in NJ, parents are legally obligated to pay for college. What a wonderful, precedent setting ruling eh?

    • I hear that you don’t like it. I don’t like it either but as long as the children are our dependents, our income is a matter of consideration for Federal Financial Aid programs.

      However, there are many scholarships and similar programs that do NOT involve means testing. We should probably do research beyond the gubmint programs.

    • I also live in GA. The HOPE scholarship is not needs based and the amount rewarded is not based on your income. It is based on the child’s eligibility. and the amount awarded is different for each school. There are also 2 levels of HOPE. If the child’s grade point average is 3.70 or higher with at least a 1200 on the SAT, the student may qualify fore the Zell Miller Scholarship, which is a greater award than HOPE. Again, the exact amount awarded is different for each college. There is an online table of each college and the amount HOPE or Zell will pay per credit hour.

    • Its tough for all of us larry but do u want to see someone making $500k getting fafsa $ cuz income is not a requirement? Community college can save us $100k but no…”not for me” said my kid. There are consequences to that.

  20. I just got married 6 months ago.my daughter is a senior in hs getting ready to graduate. My husband and her are cool but the only thing they have in common is me. Even tho we live in the same household they rarely see other or talk. Should the government expect him to pay for her college. .he just enterend her life!

    • I completely agree. I’m 32 years old and on SSI disability. I’m trying to go to school to get off of the government income if possible, but they didn’t take any of that into consideration.

      • Check with your state and in state colleges. I know in Maryland persons who receive disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) get free tuition. I takes a few extra steps and you have to deal with the school and the Social Security Administration but it is worth it!! What isn’t worth free tuition??

  21. what I would like to know is why my income counts against my child? He moved out 3 years ago and has been supporting himself with a job, etc. I do not provide any assistance monetarily as he has done a great job on his own. If they went off of his income he would be eligible. But they add mine and he gets nothing and I can not afford the 20,000 or so ahead in tuition for him.

      • Youth report parental income until 24, whether claimed or not. This is because if they need a book, you will most likely be able to help, while other students’ parents have little to no income and cannot help even if they want to. It’s tough but fair.

    • It counts because you are his parent; those are the rules. If it did not then just about every kid would claim independance whether or not it was true.

    • If you have not claimed your child on your taxes and he is supporting himself and can prove it, your income should not be a factor. He may have to do a few extra steps to declare himself independent but once he does so, all should be well.

    • Dependency for the FAFSA is not dependency for taxes. Until a student meets the dependency rules on the FAFSA- he must claim his parent’s information.

  22. When entering how much parents have set aside in a 529 account-do you put how much is saved for all children or just the one applying for college this year?

  23. My daughter just submitted her fafsa application online but she did not ask for my signature. Should I be worried or what should I do? Thanks!

    • I would go ahead and ask your daughter if she created a pin for you. If she is still dependent according to FAFSA then she MUST have parent information and parent signature (PIN)

  24. If you do not have great credit, can you still get loans for graduate school? Also when should you be applying for Loans for the 2015-2016 school year? And are there any scholarships or grants for grad school applicants? Thank you.

    • you should apply for the 2015-2016 school year now, most schools let you know the deadline to receive the best opportunity for the highest award amounts which is typically April 1. Even if you don’t apply before then there is always a chance you will receive some assistance.

    • Chari,

      The Stafford Loan program is not credit based. The FAFSA is required and if eligible according to those guidelines, then loans are available (pending the school’s criteria on the amount).

      Students should be completing the 15/16 FAFSA now, as soon as the 2014 taxes have been filed.

      The third question is best directed to the school(s) you plan to apply to.

      • Why complete it every year unless there is a substantial change in income/assets.

        FASCA doesn’t take into account the cost of living in the area. Rent on a two bedroom apt in Long Island is ~$2500 per month. But you can own a house in South Carolina for $1000 per month. There is no adjustment for STATE Income Tax, which amounts to several thousand dollars a year in NY, but ZERO in several states; TX, FL, NH to name a few.
        Have equity in your primary residence?
        FASCA treats that like you have money in the bank. Of course when you’re close to retirement age, its not reasonable to take a loan against that equity because you’ll never be able to pay that back AND retire.
        They should also deduct the amount of income that goes to Social Security and the other mandatory payroll deductions that eat a substantial portion of out take-home income.

  25. After the AGI question, the next question ask you to add lines 7, 12 and 18, these numbers more times than not are the same numbers as the AGI. So, if one does not have a W2 to enter salary, wages and tips, where would this number come from? I believe it is Q# 58, it’s the one right after the AGI Q?

  26. I have one child starting undergrad and another starting graduate school and pay tuition for both. Can I claim two in college when filling out the FAFSA for the undergrad?

  27. It’s not true that income is not a consideration. If your income only (nothing else) changes, increases, for one year from the previous years, you will see a big decrease in Pell grant money, which in turn impacts anything a (private) University allocates. I have had 3 children in private Universities continuously since 2009 and had an increase in salary one year which reflected negatively on two of their grants for subsequent years. Unfortunately the increase in salary did not make up for the loss of grant $. The difference was made up with loans.

  28. Great info, thanks. On a related note, I am a divorced father with a Coverdell ESA for my daughter. Do I need to claim her on my taxes to qualify for tax write off of ESA distributions? Thanks.

  29. I got my daughter’s FAFSA answer back in one minute. NO AID! Makes no sense to have to include your parents salaries when you are not dependent on your parents. Just a way to deny you aid.

  30. I am 56 years old, and completed graduate school in 2011 in order to become a speech therapist in a title 1 public school. I amassed over 80k in student loans. However, there is no place on the FAFSA to note this. My daughter has received one small loan for her freshman year, but my entire salary goes towards paying her college costs and paying back my student loan. (No ability to save for retirement!) My husband is also a public school teacher in a title 1 district… Suggestions?

      • I too am in a similar situation…went to graduate school in my late 30s and borrowed $40,000 and am still paying my loans off and my son is a freshman in college. Why isn’t the fact that I’m still carrying a student loan debt allowed to be counted somewhere on FAFSA? We are expected to pay for mine and his? When I went to grad school our income was about $50000 a year for a family if 4 but no financial aid just loans so I took the loans to advance my education and yes I do make more than the $28000 a year I made at my previous job (hence one of the reasons to go back to school). So any suggestions for this? I currently still owe about $29000 for grad school?

  31. Hello,

    If someones name varies between what’s on their social security card and the tax return, and we submit the FAFSA based on the name on the tax return with a PIN has been verified, and the FAFSA has been submitted with the same information and processed, would you have to go back and change the name on the FAFSA?

  32. Good info! So, how do you correct any information/ mistakes on the FAFSA after you’ve already filled it??

    • You just log back in and click on make a correction, once correction has been made, make sure to save and submit. You should get a confirmation page listing exactly what was corrected. I think it’s always a great ideal to save and print this page for your records.

  33. There may be no income cutoff in theory, however if you make over 200k/yr you are only eligible for loans at 10.5%. This is hardly what I would call “assistance”.

    • I have to agree. With the economy and two kids our income has been up and down. When we were making $90k we received no assistance and at the time we had one in college and an autistic high schooler at home. Now the oldest has moved out but our income is now $52k and the youngest autistic child is trying to take 1 to 3 classes a semester and we still get no help. Of course all of our bills are the same and only our income is lower. I’m starting to wonder if college is even worth it.

    • That’s crazy, I’ve never heard the sub or unsubsidized loans with that high of interest rate? To be eligible for scholarships at “most” schools, filling out the FAFSA is normally one of the first criteria. Maybe your child could qualify for an institutional scholarship…definitely better than loans! Good luck to you and your child!

    • If your parents make over 200k a year they are in the 1 percent of Americans (the ones that certain politicians think need to pay more) i think a grant is highly unnapropriate since it is designed to help struggling people have a hand up. Sounds like you want a hand out

      • Exactly! Our adjusted income in 2013 was $36000 for three of us and dropped to around $20000 in 2014. Using 2013 figures, my daughter only received a $650 scholarship from her Community college, which covered 1/2 of her tuition. She is doing two years in community college then transferring into a university so she could save some money. Now you tell me how on a $20000 income we are supposed to cover the rest of her tuition as well as her books. We do not get any government assistance (our choice) and we have a small mortgage. Then I get to read on here how folks with a $200,000 income cant get any money for their kids and they don’t understand why. Ugh. If you make that much money, you should be able to help your child. The biggest problem in this country is that everyone lives up to or above their means. If you make 200k, buy a $175,000 house, not a $500,000 house.

        • Susie Orman always advise your retirement savings comes before paying your child’s college. The reason she says is ” a child can always get loans for college, but there is no loan for retirement “. If your child is in college let them get a loan it becomes due when they graduate. In the mean time work on paying back your loan and contribute the maximum you are allowed in a Roth IRA. You need retirement money.

        • Its important to know that if your income decrease during the school year you can notify your school financial aid department & fill out a change in income form. It might get you more help.

        • Jenb64 – our household income is ~$200k, I empathize with your situation and I couldn’t agree with you more regarding lifestyle. We have lived a very modest lifestyle and saved for our two children’s college for 18+ years. No fancy cars or vacations, no second homes or boats; just squirreling away money for college. List price for child #1 is $63k a year reduced with a $5K unsubsidized loan and ~$18k in school awards. Child number 2 is still 3 years off.

          Of course I would welcome more money but I made the decision 18 years ago that I would put my kids through the best college I could afford and…here I am burning through a lot of cash. But I view it as an accomplishment that I’m proud of.

        • About the college books – just read it’s cheapest to get them used from Amazon, and maybe sell them back to Amazon when the student has finished with them.

          • The sad fact about my daughters books is they change the books so often used books are not an option, they cost over 100 dollars each at times.

        • You say you choose not to receive government help? I take it you don’t mean the help from FAFSA? Our family only makes 36,000 a year, a family of five. My son is in his first year at the university and receives the full cal grant amount of 12,000 and something a year. We still pay roughly 2-3,000 a year for the balance plus books, parking, etc. We are fortunate he commutes and lives at home. That makes a huge difference. I think when families are tight and can’t afford to help their kids with college, they shouldn’t be letting them go out of state and living at the dorms. Make them pick a university nearby to another relative or home. Some universities charge 14,000 and more just to live in a dorm for one year!!
          Anyway, I would think once your child starts at the university, you will qualify for a larger grant based on your salary alone.

      • If I could save $10k for my two children’s college making $50k a year, you could have saved money for your child making $200k a year.

        • You DON”T want a Student Loan to pay for college. The interest rates are totally ridiculous.
          It’s a shame that I can’t put my 401K fund into these loans, because they pay back in excess of 8%, cannot be discharged, and would minimize the risk of losing money that happens when investing in the market.
          We’re underfunded in our account, and I had to stop contributing to pay for room, board ($1K per month) and tuition in a state school. Can’t wait until she can live off-campus.+

  34. These are important things to remember when getting ready to fill out your FAFSA. Reporting parent information can easily be skipped and it is common for students and parents alike to rush through and not read all the questions carefully.

  35. These are all very common mistakes. I would also add forgetting to re-submit their FAFSA after making corrections.

  36. Does a FAFSA submittal need to be completed for graduate, medical, and/or law school? Does it matter the age of the FAFSA applicant?

    • Yes it does need to be completed, although income is essentially irrelevant at the Graduate level because the funding available is all non-need based Unsubsidized Loans and Plus Loans. And, no age does not matter.

  37. I have recently divorced and taken back my maiden name, how should I fill out my FAFSA. I have filled out before with married name and my info is in the system, will my social security # and date of birth connect the dots for me.

    • Vickie, I took back my maiden name this year as well. When I filled out the FAFSA for my kids, I just changed everything to my new name. The only issue was that it didn’t recognize my PIN from previous years. The FAFSA actually tells you that if you have a name change you need to apply for a new PIN. I submitted the FAFSA unsigned by the parent (because financial aid in my state is first come/first serve based on submission date), then I applied for a new PIN. It took about three days to get an email saying the PIN was verified. You shouldn’t have any problems as long as you already changed your name at the social security office.

    • Yes, it asks you if you have filed, or will file. If you click on will file, it will later let you update it with the correct data, or better yet import your tax information directly from the IRS site. As I have said in another answer, some states give out state money on a first come-first serve basis, so if there is a chance the student is eligible for state money – it is in your best interest to submit it ASAP using last years numbers (or a good estimate), and go back and correct it for final submission.

    • Yes you can file before doing your taxes. You should go by your prior year return. Once you have filed you taxes you will need to go in and update the info with the actual numbers from the new return. At that point you should be able to use the IRS Retrieval tool.

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