Filling out the FAFSA, or free application for federal student aid, is the only way you can get a financial aid package to help you fund your college education. It is vital to remember that there is no age limit to apply for federal student aid. Regardless of whether you are enrolling in college for the very first time or returning to school after a long hiatus, you need to fill out the FAFSA for colleges to determine your financial aid needs. Applying is free, (hence the first word in FAFSA), and it is also worth noting that there is no credit check required to receive federal student aid, including most federal student loans.
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In addition to using federal aid to pay for typical college expenses such as tuition, transportation, books, and fees, you can also use it to help pay for additional necessities such as dependent care, costs related to a disability, and the purchase of a personal computer among other things. Best of all, you can do it all online at FAFSA.gov.
Following these simple tips will help you avoid some of the most common FAFSA mistakes that can derail the application process. The 5 FAFSA secrets for adult students are:
1. Fill out the FAFSA.
Fill out the FAFSA even if you don’t think you will qualify. One study showed that 53 per cent of eligible families did not bother applying for college financial aid through the FAFSA, leaving millions on the table! While colleges use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for government funded financial aid such as grants and federal student loans, they also use your FAFSA score to determine if you qualify for any need-based scholarships they have to offer.
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2. Proof-read your FAFSA application at least three times to avoid these common mistakes.
- Listing incorrect Social Security or driver’s license numbers
- Leaving blank fields – enter a ‘0′ or ‘not applicable’ instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection
- Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank – if you’re unsure about something, find out the answer before you submit your FAFSA instead of leaving it blank. A conviction doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
- Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields – always round to the nearest dollar
- Listing marital status incorrectly – only write yes if you are currently married. They want to know what your marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA.
Forgetting to list the college – obtain the Federal School Code for the college, you plan on attending and list it.
- Forgetting to sign and date – if you’re filling out the paper FAFSA, be sure to sign it. If you’re filing electronically, be sure to obtain your PIN from pin.ed.gov. Your PIN is your electronic signature and will always be assigned to you only.
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3. On the day you file your FAFSA make sure you have as little cash as possible in your accounts.
The final set of questions on your FAFSA will ask about the money you have on hand. Make sure that you and your student have as little money in checking, savings and other cash-equivalent accounts as you can on the day you file the paperwork. It also helps to pay off as many bills as possible before filing the paperwork.
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4. Electronically transfer your income and tax information.
After you file your federal tax return online (or even make corrections online) you have the option to have your income and tax information electronically transferred from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to your FAFSA. This is the quickest option and it will speed your financial aid package decision along (see #5!).
5. Don’t wait on acceptance letters before applying for financial aid.
Financial Aid is available on a first come, first-serve basis. You don’t need to be accepted to a college before you can submit your FAFSA – you only need to include which schools you have applied to on your FAFSA application.
You must fill out a FAFSA every year you are in school, but if you apply online, you can re-use your FAFSA-on-the-Web PIN each year you apply for federal financial aid.