The 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the application that determines your eligibility for most federal, and many state and college financial aid programs, is now available. If you are looking for financial aid for next year, you will want to fill it out as soon as possible, and you want to make sure it’s accurate! An incomplete FAFSA and/or one with significant errors can delay processing—postponing and even reducing the amount of funding you might be able to receive.
Here’s a handy checklist to help you avoid some common FAFSA mistakes:
- Make sure you have an FSA ID: Both you and your parents each need a separate FSA ID—the user name and password necessary to login and file your FAFSA.
- Not using the correct website: Make sure you’re filing your FAFSA on fafsa.ed.gov, the official government website. The FAFSA is free to fill out; don’t be fooled by other websites that charge you to complete a FAFSA.
- Using a nickname: This is a legal document. Make sure you’re using your full, legal name as it appears on government documents.
- Submitting the wrong person’s information: The FAFSA is written from a student perspective, even if your parents are the ones filling it out. When FAFSA refers to “you” and “yours,” it is referring to the student. The FAFSA will always specify when it is asking for parent information.
- Forgetting to list one or more colleges: Make sure to obtain the Federal School Code for the college(s) you are interested in attending. Add all schools you are considering attending, even if you aren’t sure you will apply or be accepted. That way they will have your information in case you do apply. (It can’t hurt! Colleges can’t see which other colleges you listed, and if you don’t end up applying to a college, they will just disregard the information.) If you forget to add a school, you can always add it later or remove a school to make room for another. You can add up to 10 schools at once.
- Using tax information from the wrong year: Each year, the FAFSA asks you to provide tax return information from a specific tax year. You will be asked for 2016 tax information for the 2018-19 school year. If you are eligible to use the electronic IRS Data Retrieval tool it’s a real time-saver—it automatically fills in your tax information on the FAFSA.
- Waiting too long to submit or not completing the FAFSA: Because some state funding, like Illinois’ need-based Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant, is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s important that you accurately file your FAFSA as soon as possible in order to have the best chance of receiving aid. If you wait or don’t complete it, you could potentially miss out on funding to help pay for your college education.
What info will I need to fill out the FAFSA?
Here is a list of the information you will need to complete the FAFSA:
- An FSA ID to sign electronically. (Create this beforehand at fsaid.ed.gov, if possible, but you can create it at the time of the application).
- Social Security Number. Be sure it is correct!
- Your Alien Registration Number, if you (student) are not a U.S. citizen.
- Your 2016 federal tax returns, W-2’s, and other records of income. (As noted above, you may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval tool, which transfers your tax information into the FAFSA for you, but have this information handy just in case).
- Banking statements and records of investments (if applicable).
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable).
- List of colleges you would like to attend.
Need help filling out the FAFSA? The online FAFSA form offers help and hints on each page of the form, and the FAFSA on the Web worksheet is a great guide to print and keep with you as you fill out the FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education also provides some additional helpful FAFSA tips so make sure to check out their blog.
If you are an Illinois student, you can fill out your FAFSA at a free FAFSA Completion Workshop, offered throughout the state (if you don’t see one near you on the ISAC calendar, check with your high school—many high schools hold private FAFSA completion events for their students). Or contact the ISACorps member in your area for free one-on-one assistance.
Questions about financial aid? Text one of ISAC’s experts by using the ISAC College Q&A text messaging service. Check out ISAC’s financial aid Facebook Live events in October at www.facebook.com/ILStudentAssistance/.