In many parts of the country kids are already back at school and the rest of the children will be starting right after Labor Day. While the college football season is kicking off, most families don’t realize that applying for free financial aid is literally right around the corner for 2018. The problem is that most people don’t understand how the process actually works and often sell themselves short of getting free money that could help offset the growing cost of college. Here are seven mistakes that could crush your ability to get free money for 2018.
- Fill out the FAFSA form on October 1st – If you are interested in getting the most possible money from the Free Application For Student Aid, then you must fill out the forms by October 1st. Some of the financial awards are issued on a first come first serve basis, so when you fill out the form matters. Some states and some colleges will run out of money early, so the early bird gets the worm. The myth here is that most families believe this is 100% a need based process when it is not. Remember, the tax requirements changed and FAFSA will be using your 2015 returns for better or for worse and not your 2016 returns.
- Not filing by the deadline – Ok, so you didn’t heed my advice for section one because you either forgot or just didn’t have the time to get it done early. The next colossal mistake is missing your state deadline or the deadline from your college. If you look up the website fafsa.gov/deadline you can find out what is the actual deadline for your state for applying for financial aid. Missing this date will be a huge mistake if you are trying to get free aid.
- Not reading the asset questions – Most people mistakenly assume that all your assets are included with FAFSA, so many families do not even attempt to fill out the form because they automatically assume they will be declined. There are many assets such as the value of your business, your IRA accounts, and the equity in your primary residence that are not included for FAFSA purposes. In fact, when people build their financial plans they often don’t consider the long-term ramifications of planning for college with their current short term decisions such as should you pay your mortgage off quicker.
- Reading the FAFSA definitions – FAFSA has very detailed criteria on which parents need to be listed, which people are considered family members, and which family members will attend college at the same time. One common mistake is that if you have three children in college with one of them being the student who is currently filling out the FAFSA forms, parents will often list two in college versus three. That alone could end up costing you money.
- Listing only one college – Let’s say you are extremely sure you will go to one college in your state. It is a big mistake on FAFSA forms to list only that one college instead of all of the colleges that could potentially plan to attend. There is no penalty to adding more schools on your FAFSA forms. According to fafsa.gov, you don’t even have to remove schools you later decide not to apply to down the road. That particular school can just disregard your FAFSA.
- Use the right website – There are many websites that talk about FAFSA or may ask you to pay money to fill out the FAFSA form. The website is fafsa.gov and you NEVER have to pay a fee to apply for the Free Application For Student Aid.
- Sign your application – This may seem silly, but for various reasons some students and parents forget to actually sign the FAFSA forms. Double check your work and make you sign the application on October 1st to get a jump on your competition.
If you are struggling with how to fill out FAFSA forms and plan for your children’s college education, give me a call or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you become an expert in FAFSA.