Before you file the FAFSA, check for these expensive errors

“Families should have an easier time filing for financial aid this year, but the FAFSA is still complicated form to fill out.”

Yahoo Finance, October 5, 2016 – The Free Application for Federal Student Aid may be a mere six pages, but it still offers college-bound students plenty of opportunities to trip up.

Filing the FAFSA should be easier this year . Families were able to submit their paperwork as early as October 1, using data from their 2015 tax returns. They can use the IRS Retrieval Tool to automatically transfer return data into their FAFSA.

Previously, the start date was three months later, on Jan. 1, a timeline that had early-filing families estimating data on student aid forms as they waited for W-2s, 1099s and other year-end tax return documents.

Despite those improvements, the FAFSA is still an “intrusive” form with plenty of detailed financial questions applicants may not know the answers to offhand, said Mark Kantrowitz, vice president of strategy for college and scholarship search site

“Many families are a little intimidated by it,” said Kantrowitz, who is also a co-author of the free e-book “Filing the FAFSA.” “There’s also a fear that many families have that if they answer a question wrong, they will ruin their child’s chances at financial aid.”

Nix that worry. Correcting data that was wrong at the time of filing is typically a simple process, he said. In some cases, families can also update their application or appeal to the college if information has changed since filing that could affect their eligibility.

That said, some FAFSA missteps can delay the processing of your application, which isn’t ideal for state and college aid doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. Avoid these common mistakes:

“The first mistake is that families fail to file for financial aid,” said David Levy, editor of and Kantrowitz’s co-author on “Filing the FAFSA.” “They disqualify themselves.”

This can create problems on several levels, Levy said. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for need-based aid, a completed FAFSA is required to apply for federal student loans, and to qualify for many universities’ merit-based aid.

Plus, many families are wrong about their qualifications. In a 2015 study, Kantrowitz estimated that 2 million students who didn’t file the FAFSA in 2011-2012 would have qualified for Pell Grants of about $4,700 apiece.

The changes to the FAFSA have created a unique overlap this fall: Forms are available for two academic years, both of which use data from tax year 2015. Make sure you’re completing the correct form for next year, the 2017-2018 academic year.

Inadvertently swapping digits in your Social Security number or other figures are common tax-return missteps , and they are also common on the FAFSA, said Levy. Porting in data from your tax return can help avoid this problem on many questions, but it’s still smart to double-check all figures before submitting your forms.

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