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Common FAFSA Mistakes that Cost You Money for College

Updated 25/10/2022

While the amount of money you receive by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is based upon your financial need, average amounts are about $9,000.1 With the costs of college continuing to rise, it would be silly to leave any amount of money on the table. Never fear, we are here to help you submit a successful application and avoid common FAFSA mistakes and missteps!


Not filling out the FAFSA


Seriously! There is a common misperception that folks aren’t eligible to receive aid. While it is true that the higher your income the less aid you may receive, there was over $234.6 BILLION available in 2021 in the form of grants, federal loans, tax credits and federal work-study according to the CollegeBoard.


Filing the FAFSA too late


While it seems that aid should be always available, some of it is available on a first come, first served basis. Waiting literally may cost you money. The application opens on October 1st, and while that may seem early, applying close to that day increases your likelihood of getting every financial aid dollar available to you. Your application is only good for the upcoming academic year, so if you fill it out on October 1, 2022, it’s only good for the 23/24 academic year. You’ll need to fill it out again October 1, 2023, so…. mark your calendar.

Set-up your Federal Student Aid ID


Before you can submit a FAFSA application, you’ll need to get an ID for it. While there are common FAFSA mistakes, education and preparation will make it easy to avoid this one. The FSA ID is a username and password combination you use to log in to U.S. Department of Education (ED) online systems. Both a parent and a prospective student need their own FSA ID. Whether you are a parent or a student, you’ll use your FSA ID every year you fill out the FAFSA form. You will also use this ID for the life of your federal student loans. The FSA ID is your legal signature and shouldn’t be created or used by anyone other than you—not even your parent, your child, a school official, or a loan company representative. Create yours here. Be aware that it may take up to THREE days to become active, so do it before October 1! More information from federal government here.


You don’t always need to include parental income


There’s a big difference between independent or dependent status as a student. When you file as a dependent, you include both the student’s and the parents’ income. For need based aid, this makes a big difference in qualifying for it.  Dependent students with divorced parents should not declare both incomes, and unless you are legally adopted, there’s no need to include your guardian’s income. You can find out more about this here.


Use the correct income and assets


Speaking of income, don’t overstate or understate your household income or you will accidentally disqualify yourself from some aid. Make sure you are using the correct income from your tax forms and be careful how you classify a home or retirement accounts. This common FAFSA mistake can be avoided by watching this video.


Include other students in the household


If your parents are supporting a sibling or other relative through school, make sure you indicate them on the “How many people in your (and your spouse’s) household will be college students between July 1, 2023 and June 30, 2024?” question.  If a household supports more than one student, the federal government  takes that into account when deciding how much is a reasonable expected financial contribution, or EFC, for your family.  Include others only if they will attend, at least half-time in 2023-2024, in a program that leads to a college degree or certificate.


Do you have a bachelor’s degree?


If you haven’t graduated and don’t have a diploma in hand, the answer is no. The intent isn’t to identify that you are working on a bachelor’s degree and accidentally selecting yes will disqualify you from aid.


Don’t stop with the just the FAFSA


There are many different types of scholarships available to pay for college.  You should speak with your high school guidance counselors, local businesses and organizations and see what local or national scholarships might be available to you. Find out more about or to register for our monthly “Paying for College” scholarship give away here.


You may also want to investigate a reduction in the price of tuition.  Discuss with the college financial aid office at your list of schools and see what they recommend for additional aid or a reduction in tuition. No matter what happens with your federal aid, keep trying to find alternative ways to pay for it. Make certain you avoid these common FAFSA mistakes and give yourself or your student the best chance at federal aid.





1 Kantrowitz, Mark. “How much money can you get from the FASFA?” March 4, 2022