Common FAFSA Mistakes
Completing the FAFSA correctly is critical if you want to receive financial aid. Here are some common errors to avoid when you complete or renew your FAFSA.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is the financial aid form students must complete to be considered for federal student aid programs, including federal student loans, work-study, and federal grants and scholarships. Your FAFSA information may also be used by your state and by colleges to determine your eligibility for non-federal aid. You can fill out the FAFSA online or print out a copy and mail it in. Either way, the FAFSA is an important form you’ll want to fill out correctly.
According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Office of Federal Student Aid, the following mistakes on your FAFSA could delay or negatively affect your financial aid awards.
1. Waiting to file your FAFSA/Missing FAFSA deadlines
Filing your FAFSA as early as possible helps to ensure that you will meet each college's financial aid deadline, as well as FAFSA deadlines for state aid and scholarships. Be prepared to complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after it is released on October 1. This applies whether you are completing your FAFSA for the first time or submitting a FAFSA renewal, which you must do each year of college to continue to receive financial aid.
2. Not creating an FSA ID before starting your online FAFSA
A FSA ID is a username and password combination that you use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education online systems, including the FAFSA website. Students and parents (if the student is a dependent student) will each need their own, separate FSA ID to sign the online FAFSA form.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, when you register for a FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA form electronically, so it’s a good idea to create the FSA ID before beginning your FAFSA. Also, having the ID and using it to log-in when you begin the FAFSA will automatically download some of your personal information into the FAFSA form. This can help avoid inconsistencies between information associated with your FSA ID and information you enter into the FAFSA form and avoid delays in the processing of your application. You can create your FSA ID at StudentAid.gov/fsaid.
3. Supplying incorrect personal information
Double- and triple-check your Social Security and driver's license numbers. Make sure your date of birth is correct. Use your full legal name as listed on your Social Security card. Students should use their permanent address, not their school address or a temporary address.
4. Leaving answer fields blank
Empty answer fields will cause processing errors and may cause your FAFSA to be rejected. Unless the instructions say you can leave the answer field blank, input a zero for answers requiring numbers and N/A (not applicable) for other answers.
5. Confusing the Parent section of the FAFSA with the Student section of the FAFSA
The FAFSA requests information about students and their parents/guardians in two separate areas. Parents completing the form for their children often provide their information in the student section and vice versa. Read the directions carefully. When the FAFSA form asks for “your” information or information from “you,” it’s referring to the student. If the form is asking for parent information, it will refer to your “parent” or “parents”.
6. Using the incorrect source for tax information
When the FAFSA asks for your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and income tax paid, use the figures from your or your parents’ tax return, not your W2. Better yet, use the free IRS Data Retrieval Tool when you complete the FAFSA online. With just a few clicks, the tool will download your and your family’s tax information from the IRS website.
7. Including the wrong assets
The FAFSA will ask you and your parents to list your assets. However, you do not need to include the value of retirement accounts, home equity for the home you live in, college accounts not in a parent's or child's name, and assets of a business with less than 100 employees.
Some people mistakenly include the same assets in both the parent and student sections of the FAFSA. Parent’s assets should be reported in the Parent section of the FAFSA, and the student’s assets in the student section. A 529 plan for which a student is the beneficiary should be reported as a parent’s asset, not a student’s asset.
8. Reporting tax and other financial information from the wrong year
You and your family will report tax and information from the “prior-prior” year on the FAFSA. For example, if you are completing the 2023-24 FAFSA, you and your family will report information from your 2021 tax forms, not the tax forms from 2022.
9. Providing an e-mail address you don't regularly check
College financial aid offices tend to contact students by email, so make sure you check your email often. The financial aid office may have questions and needs timely answers to process your application as quickly as possible.
10. Failing to count yourself as a student -- or your parents
The FAFSA asks how many people in a household will be attending college during the financial aid award year. Students sometimes forget to include themselves in that group. Siblings and other members of the household must be attending college (or a program that leads to a college degree or certificate) at least half time to be considered a college student on the FAFSA.
Strangely, the FAFSA instructs students not to count parents who are attending college. If one or both of your parents are going to college at least half time, you may want to explain this special circumstance to college financial aid offices, as they may consider it in your favor when formulating your financial aid package.
11. Forgetting to list a college
The online FAFSA allows students to list up to 10 colleges that they want to receive their FAFSA information. The paper version allows students to list up to 4 colleges.
If you are applying to more than the maximum number of colleges, you may add additional schools after your FAFSA has been processed and your Student Aid Report has been sent to the first 10 (or 4) schools.
In the heat of completing your apps or making last-minute adjustments to your college list, it can be easy to forget to go back and add these new or additional colleges to your FAFSA form — and this could delay your aid package at some schools. Visit studentaid.gov for directions on how to add colleges to your form.
12. Forgetting to sign and date your FAFSA form
Your FAFSA will not be processed until you have signed the form. If you are a dependent student, both you and your parents will need to sign the form.
We hope this list of common FAFSA errors will help you complete the FAFSA more quickly, meet your FAFSA deadlines, and avoid mistakes that could delay or lower your aid package. Good luck!