10 Tips for Filling Out the FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA properly is every student’s key to getting the maximum amount of student aid. The students who get the most aid aren’t always the neediest–they simply know how to plan ahead and fill out the form to their advantage. The following tips will help you avoid the pitfalls of the FAFSA and get the amount of aid you deserve.

What are the best FAFSA tips? What can you do to apply for FAFSA properly?

Plan ahead with your FAFSA.

One of the biggest mistakes students and families make is not planning ahead. You should make every effort to organize finances BEFORE filling out the FAFSA. For example, investing income and assets in FAFSA-exempt places so that the government can’t count the money on an FAFSA form is always a good idea. This may mean maximizing contributions IRAs and 401(k)s or liquidating stocks, bonds, and mutual funds to pay off debt.

Don’t keep money in your name when filling out FAFSA.

A student’s assets are assessed at 20 percent, while parents’ assets are assessed at only 5.6 percent. If you have a college savings or a family member who wants to contribute to your education fund, put it in your parent’s name. Better yet, ask family contributors to keep money in their name until you have received your aid package. This especially applies to any online savings accounts you may have.

Watch your earnings.

Earning too much money from a job can have a negative impact on the aid you receive. The current income protection rule (2010/2011) allows dependent students to earn up to $4,500 before money is assessed towards their expected family contribution (EFC). For every dollar beyond that amount, students lose $0.50 in aid eligibility. To avoid this financial aid pitfall, students should stick with work-study positions or the Americorps program. Income earned from these sources will not affect aid eligibility. If you follow the easy steps to starting your own business, this might actually hurt you when filling out FAFSA.

Fill out FAFSA early.

Waiting to fill out the FAFSA form until you have time or have finished your taxes is a huge mistake. Aid is almost always awarded on a first-come, first served basis. Applying as close as possible to January 1 will significantly increase your chances of getting more aid. If you don’t have the numbers you need, enter a ballpark estimate and update the form later.

Don’t overstate your income or assets.

Not everything needs to be claimed on the FAFSA. Be very careful that you do not report income or assets that are FAFSA exempt. You can learn more about what you do and don’t have to report by carefully reading the form instructions. If you have any doubt about what you need to report, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

Fill out FAFSA completely.

Leaving parts of the form blank can mess with the formula and negatively impact the amount of aid you receive. If the answer to a question is zero, by all means write in a zero. Just don’t leave the field blank.

Say yes to work-study and loans.

Some students think they will receive less aid if they answer no to questions about work-study and loans on the FAFSA, but this theory is incorrect. You should always say less to both. The worst thing that will happen is that you will have more financial aid options.

Make sure your info is correct on your FAFSA forms.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are thousands of students who miss out on aid each year because incorrect information on their FAFSA delayed processing. Always double-check to make sure your name on the form matches your name on your social security card. Do not use nicknames or shortened versions of your name. Also, check to make sure your social security number, driver’s license number, and other personal information is accurate.

Don’t expect to fit everything in a box.

The FAFSA form is long, but there isn’t a box for everything. For example, you may not be able to report all of your out-of-pocket medical expenses or a death in the immediate family. If you have a special financial situation that the FAFSA does not account for, you may want to let your school know about it to see if you qualify for more awards or a recalculation of your aid package.

Don’t pay for help with filling out the FAFSA.

Every year, thousands of students and parents pay services to help with the FAFSA. Although these services can be useful, they are not really necessary. Anyone can get help with the FAFSA by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID. Assistance may also be available at no charge from your school’s financial aid counselor.

That’s how you can fill out your FAFSA properly. Please feel free to ask any questions about filling out the FAFSA below. You can also read more on a post where we addressed FAFSA questions.

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