Tips on how to avoid these common FAFSA® mistakes

Ways to get the most financial aid for school

Every year, families postpone filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Some skip it entirely because they think it’s a waste of time, the application is too long, or it's only a fast track to federal student loans. However, the FAFSA® package can also include college scholarshipswork-study, and grants. Not filling it out—the most costly FAFSA® mistake—can result in losing money that could have helped you pay for college. Don’t be that student, and make sure you avoid these common FAFSA® mistakes.

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Avoid these FAFSA® mistakes

1. Not submitting the FAFSA® at all

Some scholarships require a FAFSA® to be submitted, so not submitting it may prevent you from being considered. It’s important to apply to get as many scholarship opportunities as possible. Some families don’t fill out the FAFSA® because they think their income is too high to qualify. Income is considered, but it’s important to apply given some new changes to the FAFSA® application.

The Student Aid Index (SAI) is replacing the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The SAI is an index number used to determine what types of aid a student is eligible for, and how much. The only way to know this amount is by submitting the FAFSA®, so don’t make the mistake of not doing it at all.

2. Waiting to fill out the FAFSA® until you file your taxes

The FAFSA® used to require a bunch of tax forms and paperwork, and it was often confusing for students and families. Some would accidentally over- or underestimate their household finances, unnecessarily disqualifying them from receiving aid—not anymore.

The new FUTURE Aid Direct Data eXchange (FADDX) makes the tax retrieval process super easy. All you need to do is check a box that allows the FAFSA® access to your tax information, and everything from the IRS will be automatically imported into your application. This ensures that the correct information is submitted so you won’t make any mistakes.

3. Not filling out the “special circumstances” form if financial information changes

The special circumstances form is available from college financial aid offices. You fill it out when your income changes from what’s reported on your FAFSA®. This could be due to a job loss, a medical circumstance, or a reduction in income. Make sure you consider financial changes to avoid a common FAFSA® mistake that can affect your aid amount.

4. Thinking there’s an age limit for the FAFSA®

Federal financial aid is available to students of any age and at any stage of their education journeys. There’s no age limit—so apply!

5. Waiting to list schools until you’re absolutely sure where you’re applying

Now’s the time to start researching schools you might be interested in applying to. If you’re not sure where you want to go to school when you complete the FAFSA®, or you decide you want to add more schools to the list after you’ve already submitted it, that's okay. You can add up to 20 schools after you submit by adding the school’s Federal School Code. This ensures that you're on the school's’ consideration list for money you won’t have to pay back!

6. Paying to fill out the FAFSA®

You should never pay to submit the FAFSA®—filing is always free. There is only one place to submit the official FAFSA®.

7. Not filling it out early enough

Not filling out the FAFSA® as early as possible is one of the most avoidable financial aid mistakes. Some financial aid is first-come, first-served, so fill it out as close to December 2023* as possible for the upcoming academic year that you intend to be a student. You can always make changes later.

8. Closing the confirmation page before you read it

Make sure you’re completely done filling out the FAFSA® before you exit the website.

Read over the confirmation page for any extra information you might need, like any available scholarships and links for state-based aid.

9. Not making an FSA ID before starting your application

Check out the official FAFSA® website and make your FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID at least one week before you plan on starting your application. It’s important to make one ahead of time because you want to be able to log in and get started easily when it’s time, but there also might be a wait. It may take up to three days for you to be able to use your FSA ID to log in. Your parents/guardians will also need their own FSA IDs to fill out the application and provide tax information. Don’t make the mistake of waiting!

10. Using the FAFSA® as your only way to pay for school

There are options for you to pay for school, of course, but the FAFSA® should never be last. You can look for private scholarships through your school or financial aid counselors. You can earn scholarships through the FAFSA®, too. Then, federal funds from the FAFSA® can help fill any gaps. If you still need money, think about private student loans being your last stop on the paying-for-school journey.

Make the most of your federal student aid

Avoiding these common mistakes while filling out the FAFSA® is an important thing you can do to help pay for college. Make sure you fill it out and submit it as soon as possible. Check with your high school or financial aid office for resources to help you fill out the FAFSA® properly. There are also free online resources that can help you.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

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