SACRAMENTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–With the first state deadlines for student aid fast approaching, college students can ensure they are eligible for the most student aid possible by avoiding common mistakes when preparing their federal aid application (known as the FAFSA) and meeting deadlines.
“Getting the FAFSA right is as important as getting it in early,” said Craig V. Carroll, chief executive officer of Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., the nation’s oldest and largest non-governmental student financial aid advisor. “There’s overwhelming demand for this year’s $144 billion pool of student aid, and this year, more than ever, aid is going to be critical to many student’s ability to pursue their college dreams.”
The 2009-2010 FAFSA asks 137 income, asset, and dependency questions, and can be daunting. You can answer some questions incorrectly and still have your application approved but receive a smaller aid award. Other inaccuracies can cause rejection, which in the first-come, first-served world of student aid means that less aid will be available when your application is finally considered.
Here are the top 10 ways to improve your student aid eligibility:
1. Don’t delay. If you file your income taxes around the April 15th deadline, don’t wait until your taxes are completed to file your FAFSA or you will miss most of the state and college student aid deadlines. Most programs award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Providing accurate estimates on the FAFSA is perfectly fine. Be careful when calculating or estimating your adjusted gross income. Answering this question incorrectly won’t cause your FAFSA to be rejected, but could lower your aid award. Remember, your taxable income is not your adjusted gross income.
2. Don’t include untaxed Social Security as income. The law changed this year. Reporting it will inflate your expected family contribution and lower the amount of aid for which you are eligible.
3. Children of divorced parents typically believe that the parent they live with is their legal guardian and that they are in a legal guardianship. This is not true in all cases. A wrong answer will incorrectly change the student’s dependency status to “independent” and impact the aid calculation.
4. More families are withdrawing funds from retirement accounts early – sometimes it’s taxed and sometimes it’s not. Counting these funds in both adjusted gross income and untaxed income will inflate your expected family contribution and decrease aid.
5. If you or a family member has had their job eliminated, you may be eligible to answer “yes” to the “dislocated worker” question. You need to meet one of four criteria on the day that you submit your FAFSA. Student Financial Aid Services is seeing that one in every 10 families has a member whose job has been eliminated. Being a “dislocated worker” affects how your assets are treated and could even reduce your expected family contribution to zero.
6. Consider getting student aid advice and FAFSA preparation help from paid professionals. Federal law allows paid professional FAFSA preparation, much like tax advisors help families prepare their taxes accurately and correctly to maximize their tax refunds. Choose a professional FAFSA preparer who has a good Better Business Bureau rating, uses people to review each answer to ensure accuracy, receives high ratings from past clients, and has the goal of making you eligible for the most aid possible. With the average student aid award of $9,500 at stake, help from a professional FAFSA preparer can relieve some of the stress of finding money for college.
7. Don’t include your primary residence as an asset, or you will be inflating your expected family contribution and lowering your potential for aid.
8. Not all businesses are treated the same when calculating assets. Different rules apply to family-owned businesses employing fewer than 100 people. Getting this wrong won’t reject your FAFSA, but it could lower the amount of aid for which you are eligible.
9. List your last name exactly as it appears on your Social Security card or your FAFSA will be rejected.
10. Double-check all numbers. That sounds simple, but transposing numbers is one of the most common mistakes and will affect your aid award.
Meeting state and college deadlines is essential to receiving aid.
“With 70 percent of all state and college deadlines falling before April 15, 2009, it is critical that students and their families prepare their aid application now – even if they have to estimate income,” Carroll said. “Otherwise, they risk losing out on aid.”
Nine states and 765 colleges have their FAFSA 2009-2010 deadline on Sunday, March 1, 2009. The states are Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia. California’s deadline is Monday, March 2. (See attached list of deadlines for U.S. states and territories.)
Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. (SFAS) is a fee-based advisory and preparation company dedicated to helping America’s families access the most student aid possible to pursue their college dreams. Based in Sacramento, CA, SFAS is the oldest and largest student aid preparation service in the U.S. http://www.fafsa.com. Families seeking FAFSA advice may call us toll-free at 1.866.514.8929.
|U.S. states and territories||2009 – 2010 FAFSA Deadline|
|Alabama||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|American Samoa||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Colorado||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Federated States of Micronesia||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Georgia||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Guam||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Hawaii||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Marshall Islands||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Minnesota||30 days after the term starts|
|Nebraska||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Nevada||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|New Mexico||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Northern Mariana Islands||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Oregon||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Palua||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Puerto Rico||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|South Dakota||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Texas||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Utah||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Vermont||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Virginia||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Washington||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Wisconsin||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
|Wyoming||No deadline. Contact colleges.|
The federal deadline for the 2009 – 2010 academic year is June 30, 2010. The 18-month window gives students an opportunity to apply for aid in case their financial circumstances change during the academic year. Federal aid can be applied to some college costs retroactively.