FAFSA Errors that Affect Financial Aid Eligibility

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

August 31, 2020

The Free Application for Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, is the application students need to fill out to receive any federal aid from the government, including grants, work-study and federal student loans.

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

Some FAFSA errors can disqualify a student from receiving financial aid. The most common errors include:

  • Missing deadlines. State and college FAFSA deadlines may be earlier than the federal deadline. More than a dozen states award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out. About 10 states have deadlines in December, January, February or March. File the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1 to maximize eligibility for state grants and institutional aid. Students who file the FAFSA earlier get twice as many grants, on average, as compared with students who file the FAFSA later. 
  • Filing the wrong year’s FAFSA. For 9 months of the year, there are two FAFSAs that can be submitted: the FAFSA for the current year and the FAFSA for the next year. More than 90% of FAFSAs filed in the fall and spring should be for the next academic year. But, sometimes students file the wrong one. If you file the wrong FAFSA, you’ll have to file a new FAFSA for the correct year.
  • Wrong name. Use your legal name when creating a FSA ID or filing the FAFSA. This is your name as it appears on your Social Security card, driver’s license or passport. Do not use a middle name or nickname instead of your first name. Do not swap your first and last names. This will lead to a database mismatch, causing your FAFSA to be rejected.
  • Wrong date of birth. Don’t substitute the current year for the year of birth. Double check the birth year, to make sure you aren’t remembering the wrong year. Don’t swap the month and day. 
  • Wrong Social Security Number. Parents who are completing the FAFSA for their children, which is against the rules, sometimes make mistakes. They might start the FAFSA with their own FSA ID instead of the student’s FSA ID. Or, they might swap their own Social Security Number with the student’s Social Security Number. Or, they might use a sibling’s Social Security Number instead of the student’s Social Security Number. 

    Parents who are undocumented should use 000-00-0000 as their Social Security Number, not an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), a DACA Social Security Number or someone else’s Social Security Number. People who are naturalized citizens should make sure their citizenship status is associated with their Social Security Number, as otherwise the FAFSA will fail the citizenship match with the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

  • Using a temporary email or postal mailing address. Use your permanent home address, not a campus address or school email address. Otherwise, you may miss communications about your FAFSA and financial aid eligibility.
  • Failing to list a college on the FAFSA. If you do not list a college on the FAFSA, the college can’t consider you for its own financial aid funds. See also: How to Apply for Financial Aid at More than 10 Colleges on the FAFSA
  • Failing to file a federal income tax return when required. If your income exceeds the tax filing thresholds, you must file a federal income tax return. If you did not file a federal income tax return, you will get no financial aid. College financial aid administrators have little patience for tax protestors. 
  • Not registering with Selective Service. Male students must register with Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 25, inclusive, to qualify for federal student aid. If you don’t register with Selective Service, you will have to prove that your failure to register was not knowing or willful. This is very difficult to prove, unless you were continuously incarcerated or in a coma for the entire time period.  
  • Incorrectly claiming to have a prior Bachelor’s degree or professional degree. Some types of financial aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, are limited to a first Bachelor’s degree. A professional degree refers to a M.D., J.D., L.L.B. or M.B.A., not a vocational/technical certificate or diploma. 

Use our Financial Aid Calculator to estimate your expected family contribution (EFC) and financial need based. 

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