The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a gateway to money for college. Not only is it used to apply for federal student aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study, and Federal Stafford Loans, but it is also used to apply for student financial aid from state governments and most colleges and universities.
But, applying for financial aid can be complicated. Financial aid involves an alphabet soup of acronyms, like FAFSA, EFC and SAR, and is like speaking a foreign language. The FAFSA itself has more than 100 numbered questions, presenting many opportunities for potential errors. Some of the most common errors involving the FAFSA that affect financial aid eligibility include:
Failing to apply for financial aid using the FAFSA. You can’t get aid if you don’t apply. Unfortunately, many students disqualify themselves by failing to file the FAFSA. In 2011-12, about 2 million students would have qualified for a Federal Pell Grant, if they had only filed the FAFSA. Of these, 1.3 million would have qualified for the maximum Federal Pell Grant.
Filing the wrong year’s FAFSA. The FAFSA has an 18-month application period, running from January 1 to June 30 of the following year. From January to June of each year there are two versions of the FAFSA that could be filed, the FAFSA for the current academic year and the FAFSA for the upcoming academic year. About 90 percent of the applicants should be filing the FAFSA for the upcoming academic year. But, sometimes applicants get confused and file the previous year’s FAFSA instead. The 15-16 FAFSA is the required application for any applicant that wants to apply for financial aid for the Fall 2015, Spring 2016 and Summer 2016 semesters.
Missing financial aid deadlines. The priority deadline for Fall 2015 is June 25, 2015. Submitting all required documents prior to the priority deadline ensures that we will have your financial aid file completed and awarded, prior to the payment deadline. Failure to provide the required documents including their FAFSA, tax documents (if required), and other documents requested by the Financial Aid Office by the priority deadline could result in your aid not being ready to pay towards your bill on the payment deadline. Students must also have received an Admission Permit from the Vernon College Admissions and Records Office prior to the priority deadline. Failure to meet these requirements will mean you must make other finance arrangements such as cash, credit card, etc. with the business office or use the installment payment plan available on My VC. Simply completing the FAFSA by the deadline is not considered a complete file because more information is required beyond the FAFSA application. Students turning in documents after the priority deadline date must be prepared to pay their tuition and fees, books and other educationally related expenses using personal funds. Once files are complete, eligible students will receive payment in accordance with the VC disbursement of awards policy. Since funds are limited in some programs and awards are assigned as applications are completed, early application for aid is essential.
Transposing digits in numbers and dollar amounts or inserting extra digits. Last year, several hundred thousand applicants temporarily lost eligibility for need-based financial aid because they tried entering cents in the online FAFSA, causing their income to appear much higher than it really was. Income and tax figures should be entered as whole dollar amounts, without cents. Double-check to make sure the numbers are correct and that you’ve entered them in the correct field. A $10,000 error in income might lead to as much as a $5,000 reduction in student aid eligibility.
Using the wrong Social Security Number (SSN). The name, date of birth and Social Security Number must match the information on the student’s Social Security card. Use your full legal name, not a nickname. Any discrepancies will lead to a database mismatch, which could add delays to processing your FAFSA.
Reporting the wrong student or parent marital status. The student and parent marital status should be reported as of the date the FAFSA is filed. Do not anticipate a future change in marital status.
Submitting the wrong parent’s financial information. When a student’s parents are divorced or separated and do not live together, only one parent is responsible for filing the FAFSA. The student will need to use the household and income information of the parent that the student lived with the most during the past 12 months, or, if the student lived equally with both parents, the parent who provided the most financial support to the student.
Not including a stepparent’s income and assets. If only one parent is responsible for filing the FAFSA, but this parent has remarried, the stepparent’s income and assets must also be reported on the FAFSA, regardless of any prenuptial agreements. This can cause a significant reduction in the student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid, depending on the stepparent’s income and assets.
Incorrectly claiming head of household status. Families sometimes incorrectly file federal income tax returns as head of household because it leads to a lower tax liability, even though they do not satisfy the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax requirements.
The Vernon College Financial Aid Office wants to provide you the financial support you need to afford your education. Please let us know if you have any questions.