It isn't easy, filling out college forms for FAFSA -- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In trying to determine how much financial aid you or your child are eligible for, you're likely to make at least one error (although corrections can be made later).
Lynn O'Shaughnessy, who covers colleges for U.S. News & World Report, recently gave some tips to avoid FAFSA flubs. We'll cover them here, but before we do, remember that there are also web videos to help explain how to apply for college financial aid, and that make it fun. Here's one of our favorites:
Here's a shortened rundown of O'Shaughnessy's tips for avoiding errors:
Don't wait. Don't procrastinate until April, when income taxes are due, or you could miss the deadlines for state financial aid assistance and help for your child's school. Fill out the FAFSA with estimated tax numbers if your incomes taxes aren't filed promptly, and update them online later.
Don't mention retirement assets: The FAFSA doesn't want to know about money that you have in such vehicles as 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts and other qualified retirement plans. If you mention these assets on your FAFSA, your chances for need-based financial aid will shrink.
No home equity: The FAFSA won't ask if you own your residence, so any home equity that you enjoy won't hurt your chances for need-based aid. The federal financial aid form does inquire about second homes and real estate investments.
Divorced? When parents are divorced or separated, make sure the right one fills out the financial aid form. The parent who is the legal custodial guardian won't necessarily be the one to complete the FAFSA. The parent responsible for filling out the form will be the one who has lived with the student for most of the year. Ideally, the divorced or separated parent who handles the FAFSA will be the one with the lowest income.
Get help: Call the government's toll-free number: (800) 433-3243. You also can take advantage of the government's online chat sessions by using FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help from Monday through Saturday.
Correct mistakes: Return to your online form and click on "Make FAFSA Corrections." The government will process your changes within three to five days.
And if all of that doesn't work, ask the sock puppet at Fresno Pacific University:
Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid