FAFSA Errors Involving Dependency Status and Other Errors

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By Mark Kantrowitz

August 31, 2020

The Free Application for Student Aid, often referred to as the FAFSA, is the application students need to fill out to receive college financial aid from the federal government, state government and most colleges and universities. This includes grants, work-study and federal student loans.

The most common errors on the FAFSA include failing to fill it out, errors that affect financial aid eligibility, errors involving dependency status, and errors that affect the amount of financial aid.

Students sometimes answer the 13 dependency status questions on the FAFSA incorrectly. This can cause delays in receiving financial aid or cause your FAFSA to be rejected.

If you are confused by the question about being born before January 1 of a particular year, just compare the years, answering “Yes” if your birth year is less than the specified year.

You are not considered a veteran for federal student aid purposes if you served on active duty only for training purposes. However, if you served on active duty for at least one day, other than for training, you are considered a veteran for federal student aid purposes, so long as the character of service is not “Dishonorable.” Don’t confuse this with “Under Other than Honorable Conditions,” which is still considered a veteran for federal student aid purposes. ROTC students are not veterans. Members of the National Guard or Reserves are not considered veterans for federal student aid purposes unless they were called to national active duty, as opposed to state service.

Beware of sham legal guardianships. If you are still living with your parents or receiving financial support from them, you are not considered to be in a legal guardianship, even if the legal guardianship is court-ordered. 

Other Serious Errors on the FAFSA

Do not lie on the FAFSA. The penalties for lying on the FAFSA are severe and can include 5 years in jail and $20,000 fines, in addition to having to return all of the financial aid you received. The fines and jail time can be greater in some circumstances. Also, the student may be expelled for providing false information on the FAFSA. 

Do appeal for more financial aid if your ability to pay for college is affected by special circumstances, such as job loss and income reductions. Special circumstances include anything that has changed since the prior-prior year or anything that differentiates the family’s financial situation from the typical family. Other examples include high unreimbursed medical/dental expenses and high dependent care costs for a special needs child or elderly parent. Contact the college financial aid office to ask how to file an appeal for more financial aid

See also:

Use our Financial Aid Calculator to estimate your expected family contribution (EFC) and financial need based on student and parent income and assets, family size, number of children in college, age of the older parent and the student’s dependency status.

A good place to start:

See the best 529 plans, personalized for you