FAFSA Tips & Common Mistakes to Avoid

The best way to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is early, online, and without any mistakes. Download and print our checklist of what you'll need to have on hand in order to file your FAFSA. If you aren't yet ready to file a FAFSA, the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Estimator can help you estimate your eligibility for federal student aid by providing some basic information.

Apply Early

Many states and colleges use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for non-federal student aid funds that may have early deadlines or limited funding. The sooner you complete the FAFSA the more aid you could be eligible for. The FAFSA typically opens on October 1 each year for the following academic year.

What You Need to Complete the FAFSA

View and print our helpful FAFSA Checklist to learn what you'll want to have on hand when you sit down to fill out your FAFSA.

Apply Online

Online applications are easier to complete than the paper application because they use skip-­logic to only ask relevant questions. In addition, online applications will be processed faster and will likely be more accurate because the FAFSA website is designed to catch common errors. You can create a FSA ID that will allow easy access to your electronic FAFSA application. Additionally, this will enable save options, electronic signature and timely submission of your application. You can obtain your FSA ID and get more information on the FSA website.

Avoid Common Errors

Mistakes can delay your application and limit the amount of aid you are eligible to receive. To avoid errors, carefully read all of the questions on the FAFSA. Some of the most common FAFSA errors are:

  • Leaving blank fields: Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection. Enter a '0' or 'not applicable' instead of leaving a blank.
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields: Always round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security Number or driver's license number: Double-­check and triple-­check these entries to ensure accuracy. 
  • Failing to use your legal name: Your name must be listed on your FAFSA as it appears on your Social Security card. Don't enter nicknames or other variations on your name.
  • Entering the wrong address: Don't enter a temporary campus or summer address as your permanent address.
  • Entering the wrong federal income tax paid amount: This amount is on your income tax return forms from two years prior, not your W‐2 form(s). 
  • Listing Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) as equal to total income from working: AGI and total income from working are not necessarily the same. In most cases, the AGI is larger than the total income from working.
  • Incorrectly filing income taxes as head of household: If there is an error in the head of household filing status, the school will need an amended tax return to be filed with the IRS before paying out aid awards.
  • Listing marital status incorrectly: The Department of Education wants to know your marital status on the day you sign the FAFSA. If you are in a legally recognized same-­sex marriage, you will need to provide your spouse's information as well.
  • Listing parent marital status incorrectly: If your parent of record (the parent who is providing the most financial support) has remarried, you'll need to include the stepparent's information on the FAFSA. If you have two parents in a legally­‐recognized same-­sex marriage, you'll need to list both parents.
  • Failure to list both parents if they live together: If both your legal parents (defined as biological or adoptive parents) live in the same household, you are required to list both parents on the FAFSA even if they are not married.
  • Failing to count yourself as a student: The student completing the FAFSA must count himself or herself as a member of the household attending college during the award year.
  • Forgetting to list the college: Obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it along with any other schools you've applied to attend.
  • Forgetting to sign and date: If you're filling out the paper FAFSA, be sure to sign it.
  • Sending in a copy of your income tax returns: You do not need to include a copy of your tax returns with your FAFSA. Any information sent with your FAFSA will be destroyed. In addition, do not write any notes in the margins of your FAFSA.

Get Help

Check the Help section of the FAFSA website or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-­800-­4­‐FED AID (1-800-433-3243). The Department of Education also provides answers to frequently asked questions about the FAFSA, and FAFSA on the Web Live Help, a secure online chat session that allows you to ask questions of customer service representatives.

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