What is FAFSA? Why does it need my info?


Parents who homeschool their children have numerous reasons for doing do; positive socialization, engaging academics, integration of Christian values into school, etc. One goal is often ensuring the student is well prepared for college.

Part of college admission involves completing the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (FAFSA) form. This form is usually required for admission to any college, even if the student is not expecting to apply for financial aid. It must be filed every year for the student’s entire college career. We STRONGLY suggest creating a folder for each student and keeping all FAFSA and college related documents in the folder.

The FAFSA form needs to be completed during the 12th grade of high school and annually during the student’s college career. We hope this blog helps you with FAFSA. The information contained in this blog might also be valuable to your friends and family who have potential college students, even if they are not home schoolers. Feel free to share the ROAR with them.

After completing the FAFSA, students are presented with a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR provides a student with their potential eligibility for different types of financial aid, their Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and a summary of the data a student provided in the application. Students should carefully review the SAR for errors and make any corrections as necessary. Students should list the colleges they might attend when completing the FAFSA. An electronic version of the SAR (called an ISIR) is made available to the colleges/universities the student includes on the FAFSA. The ISIR is also sent to state agencies that award need-based aid.

FAFSA, SAR, ISIR, EFC – WOW – sounds like a secret code. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. This blog should help.

The most current version of FAFSA usually becomes available in January. The online FAFSA has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. Thanks to improvements like skip logic, where you only see questions that are applicable to you; and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows you to import your tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA application.

Again, the FAFSA form and related SAR and EFC data are usually required for admission to any college, even if the student is not expecting to apply for financial aid. The following lists some common errors which we hope you will avoid. Just take your time so you avoid these mistakes. (See details below for each error listed).

FAFSA "No-No" list:

  1. Not Completing the FAFSA

  2. Not Using the Correct Website

  3. Not Getting an FSA ID Ahead of Time

  4. Waiting to Fill Out The FAFSA Until After You File Taxes

  5. Not Filing by the Deadline

  6. Not Reading Definitions Carefully

  7. Inputting Incorrect Information

  8. Not Reporting Parent Information

  9. Listing only one college

  10. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

  11. Not Signing the FAFSA

1. Not Completing the FAFSA

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes too long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA, you are missing the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes some time to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid. Before basing your actions on what well-intentioned friends may tell you, verify! There are a lot of urban ledgends about FAFSA.

2. Not Using the Correct Website

Watch out for scams- The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov. That’s .gov! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. If you’re asked for credit card information, you’re not on the official government site.

3. Not Getting an FSA ID Ahead of Time

We’ve made a big change to the FAFSA process this year in order to increase security. Students and parents can no longer use a Federal Student Aid PIN to log in and sign the FAFSA online. You must, instead, use the new FSA ID—a username and password. Once you register for an FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA. If you don’t want your FAFSA to be delayed, register for an FSA ID now. If you’re a dependent student, your parent will need to create an FSA ID too.

The key to making the FAFSA simple is being prepared. The process will go much smoother if you register for an FSA ID and gather everything you need to complete the FAFSA before you start the application.

4. Waiting to Fill Out The FAFSA Until After You File Taxes

Because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s important to fill out the FAFSA early. However, FAFSA is available beginning January 1, well before most people have their taxes filed. This, however, shouldn’t stop you from getting the FAFSA submitted. If your income from the previous year is similar to your current income, you can use your previous taxes to estimate the financial information on the FAFSA and get it submitted now. You can then update the FAFSA after you file current taxes, preferably using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

5. Not Filing by the Deadline

States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA deadlines. To maximize the amount of your financial aid, you should fill out your FAFSA (and any other financial aid applications that may be required by your state or school), by the earliest of these three deadlines, if not sooner!

6. Not Reading Definitions Carefully

When it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each definition and question carefully. Too many students see delays in their financial aid for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

Don’t rush through these questions:

  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how your or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number.

  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.

7. Inputting Incorrect Information

Here are some examples of common errors seen on the FAFSA:

  • Confusing Parent and Student Information: I know there are many parents out there who fill out the FAFSA for their child, but remember, the FAFSA is the student’s application. When the FAFSA says “you” or “your”, it’s referring to the student, so make sure to enter the student’s information. If we are asking for parent information, we will specify that in the question.

  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on official government documents. No nicknames.

  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross check your social security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet the basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have a SSN, follow these instructions.

  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Income tax is not the same as income. It is the amount of tax that you (and if married, your spouse) paid on your income earned from work. Your income tax amount should not be the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). Where you find the amount of your income tax depends on which IRS form you filed.

Tip: If you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, this number will be pulled for you, directly from your income tax return.

8. Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, and file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether or not you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

9. Listing only one college

Two-thirds of freshmen FAFSA applicants list only one college on their applications. Do not make this mistake! Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add ANY college you are considering to your FAFSA, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted. It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these steps.

10. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering in the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This year, the tool will launch on February 7, 2016. In most cases, your information will be available from the IRS two weeks after you file. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent errors on your FAFSA and avoid any processing delays.

Tip: If you used income estimates to file your FAFSA early, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your FAFSA shortly after after you file your taxes.

11. Not Signing the FAFSA

So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID and submit it. This happens for many reasons, maybe they forgot their FSA ID, or their parent isn’t with them to sign with the parent FSA ID, so the FAFSA is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t have or don’t know your FSA ID, register for one. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

Source: Based on an article by Nicole Callahan, a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

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