FAFSA Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid

The best way to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is early, and online. Completing your FAFSA early will ensure that your financial aid will be in place by the time registration begins and/or payment is due for the term you plan on registering for.  In addition, completing your taxes early will help you get a jump on the FAFSA because you'll need that information to complete the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval tool can be used to pull accurate information directly from the IRS from taxes that have already been filed.

Making mistakes on your FAFSA could delay your application, prevent you from being awarded and/or possibly make you lose out on some financial aid. The most common errors people make are listed below. As you complete the FAFSA try to avoid these errors.

  • Leaving blank fields–enter a '0' or 'not applicable' instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields–always round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing incorrect social security number or driver's license number–check these entries and have someone else check them too. Triple check to be sure.
  • Entering the wrong federal income tax paid amount–obtain your federal income paid amount from your income tax return forms, not your W-2 form(s).
  • Listing Adjusted Gross Income as equal to total income–these are not the same figure. In most cases, the AGI is larger than the total income. This mistake is particularly common.
  • Listing marital status incorrectly–only write yes if you're currently married. They want to know what you're marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA, or Renewal FAFSA.
  • Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank–If you're unsure about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA instead of leaving it blank. A conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify you from receiving aid.
  • Forgetting to list the college–obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan to attend and list it–along with any other schools to which you've applied.
  • Entering the wrong address- your permanent address is not your campus or summer address.
  • Sending a copy of your income tax return- you will be contacted if you are selected for Verification (and notified about all documents that may be required). You do not need to send a copy of your tax returns in with your FAFSA application.
  • Forgetting to sign and date - if you're filling out the paper FAFSA, be sure to sign it. If filing electronically, when logging in to FAFSA.gov, follow the link to create your FSA ID. You will use your FSA ID to log in as well as to sign your FAFSA. The FSA ID has replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN. Click here for FSA ID information.

Additional Tips

Much of the financial information you need to provide is on your tax forms. It is important to file your taxes prior to completing your FAFSA, doing this can make the application process easier because you'll have the financial information you need in one place. When completing the application it is advised to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If this option is chosen, the information from your taxes will be directly retrieved from the IRS and inputted onto your application. However you can input the information manually if you have your tax forms as well.

Here is a list of materials that will help you complete the FAFSA:

  • Your social security number (can be found on social security card)
  • Your driver's license (if any)
  • Your W-2 Forms for the previous year and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse's, if you are married) most recent Federal Income Tax Return – IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040Telefile, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Your parent's Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year (if you are a dependent student as defined by federal criteria)
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records
  • Documentation that you are a U.S. permanent resident or other eligible noncitizen. 
  • Filling out the Pre-Application Worksheet will help you collect and proofread the information for your application before you submit it. There are resources available if you decide you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA Web site, or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1 800 4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).