5 fatal FAFSA mistakes to avoid

By Tamara Krause

If you're a high school senior or plan to enroll in college for the first time, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (otherwise known as the FAFSA) should be on your radar. This single application can unlock the door not only to federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants and low-interest student loans, but also to institutional financial aid (yup, like those fat scholarships!). But, a few tiny snafus can put the brakes on any financial aid you may be entitled to receive. To avoid any potential delays in getting what you deserve (and desperately need), watch out for these common mistakes.

1. Submitting the wrong form

mad cat
I take it back! Courtesy of Buzzfeed.com

On Jan. 1, a brand-spanking new FAFSA opens for those who plan to attend school in the upcoming year. But, be careful. The current year’s form will also be accessible. And if you choose the wrong one, you could be waiting for money that will never show up. When in doubt, call your financial aid office and ask which form you should complete.

2. Choosing the wrong status

it isn't fair
Seriously? Totally unfair! Courtesy of Goodreads.com

We get it. You're 18 and finally considered a legal adult … except when it comes to the FAFSA. Don't assume that you're an independent student simply because of your age or living arrangements. Even if your parents don’t plan on giving you a dime for college (stingy bastards!), you're probably still considered a dependent student by FAFSA standards. Not sure? Take this Federal Student Aid quiz to determine your status.

3. Using incorrect parental income

I don't get it
Don't worry. You're not alone. Courtesy of Buzzfeed.com

This is the part that trips up most students. If your parents are living together (married or not), you’ll need to report both incomes. This also includes same-sex couples. Are they divorced or separated? Things aren’t as simple. It usually boils down to who you spend the most time with, but it’s best to head over to the Federal Student Aid page and see which scenario best fits your situation. Oh, and don’t think that moving out will allow you to skip this section. Unless you meet the requirements for an independent student, parental income must be included on the FAFSA.

4. Listing exempt assets

this isn't happening
You should've asked for help. Courtesy of Tumblr.com

Unlike the CSS PROFILE®, many of your parents’ assets, such as the equity in their primary residence and retirement funds, do NOT need to be included as income on the FAFSA. Be sure you know what does and doesn’t need to be included to avoid missing out on any aid you may be eligible to receive.

5. Fatal error: failing to submit the FAFSA!

big mistake
This one could literally cost you big time. Courtesy of Giphy.com

No joke. This really is the fatal FAFSA mistake. Far too many students assume that their family income is too high to qualify for any financial aid and fail to submit the FAFSA. BIG MISTAKE! Even if you don’t receive a Pell Grant, you could still be eligible for work-study opportunities and institutional scholarships. You'll also have access to low-interest student loans, which have more flexible repayment options than private student loans.

One final note

Don't let the size of the form or the questions intimidate you. It’s really not as complicated as it first appears, and plenty of free resources are out there to help you. You can attend a financial aid night at your school, speak with a financial aid officer, or contact the Federal Student Aid Help Center for assistance. And, of course, we're also happy to help answer any questions you may have. Ask away!