The best way to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is early
and online. The FAFSA is primarily designed to assess eligibility for federal student
aid, but many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for
nonfederal student aid funds. Remember that there are sometimes early deadlines for
nonfederal student aid and that there is limited funding for some types of student
aid. Turning your FAFSA in early could earn you limited aid funds that may not be
available if you delay. Any errors you make when filling out the FAFSA could delay
your application. This article highlights some common errors you should avoid when
filling out the FAFSA and provides tips to help you fill out the application.
Completing your taxes early will help you get a jump on the FAFSA because you'll need
that information to complete the FAFSA. You can estimate the amounts using data from
previous tax years, but you'll need to correct the amounts on the form later by going
to the corrections page on the FAFSA Web site.
It is advisable to use the IRS Data retrieval tool to link your tax information to
your FAFSA electronically. To use this tool while completing your FAFSA:
- Log-In with your FSAID and click Link To IRS under the income information.
- Your FAFSA will be saved and you will be transferred to the IRS Web site.
- On the IRS Web site, enter the requested information.
- Once the IRS has validated your identification, your IRS tax information will display.
You can either transfer your information from the IRS or choose to return to FAFSA
on the Web from the IRS Web site. If you do not transfer your information or choose
not to return from the IRS Web site, you will have to login to open your saved FAFSA.
- If you transfer your IRS tax information, questions that are populated with tax information
will be marked with “Transferred from the IRS.”
- Once you have transferred your IRS tax information to the FAFSA, do not make any corrections
to this data.
If you apply online, your application will be processed faster and will likely be
more accurate because the FAFSA Web site is designed to catch common errors. The online
application also provides worksheets that will calculate amounts and enter them into
the field for you. It also allows you to skip questions that are not relative to your
unique situation. You can save and continue the FAFSA at any time online and then
sign and submit your application electronically using your FSAID.
Making mistakes on your FAFSA could delay your application and possibly make you lose
out on some financial aid. Some of the most common errors people make are listed below.
As you complete the FAFSA try to avoid these errors.
- Leaving blank fields–Enter a '0' or 'not applicable' instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause
miscalculations and an application rejection.
- Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields–Always round to the nearest dollar.
- Listing incorrect Social Security Number or Driver's license number–Check these entries and have someone else check them too. Triple check to be sure.
- Entering the wrong federal income tax paid amount–Obtain your federal income paid amount from your income tax return forms, not your
- Listing Adjusted Gross Income as equal to total income–These are not the same figure. In many cases, the AGI is larger than the total income.
This mistake is particularly common.
- Listing marital status incorrectly–They want to know what you're marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA or
- Listing parent marital status incorrectly–The custodial parent's marital status is needed; furthermore, if the custodial parent
has remarried, you'll need the stepparent's information too.
- Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank–If you're unsure about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA instead of
leaving it blank. A conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
- Forgetting to list the college–Obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it–along
with any other schools to which you've applied. ETSU’s School code is 003487.
- Forgetting to sign and date–When filing your FAFSA electronically, be sure to obtain your FSAID by clicking on
the link to create an FSAID.
- Entering the wrong address–Your permanent address is not your campus or summer address.
- Sending in a copy of your income tax returns–Do not send a copy of your tax returns in with your application. Check your SAR to
see if you were selected for verification. If selected for verification, you will
need to submit a completed verification worksheet and Tax Return Transcript and W2s
for you and your parent/spouse as applicable.
Much of the financial information you need to provide is on your tax forms. Completing
your taxes early can make the application process easier because you'll have the financial
information you need in one place. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, available after
February 1, to simplify completing your FAFSA. You can estimate your financial information
using previous tax years and correct the amounts on the form later by going to the
corrections page on the FAFSA Web site. If you are not required to file taxes you
still have to fill out a FAFSA to get financial aid.
Here is a list of materials that will help you complete the FAFSA:
- Your Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)
- Your driver's license (if any)
- Your W-2 Forms for the previous year and other records of money earned
- Your (and your spouse's, if you are married) most recent Federal Income Tax Return
– IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040Telefile, foreign tax return, or tax return for
Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands,
the Federated States of Micronesia
- Your parent's Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year (if you are a dependent
student as defined by federal criteria)
- Your current bank statements
- Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records,
stock, bond, and other investment records
- Documentation that you are a U.S. permanent resident or other eligible noncitizen.
Filling out the Pre-Application Worksheet will help you collect and proofread the
information for your application before you submit it. There are resources available
if you decide you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, check the FAQ section on
the FAFSA Web site, or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED
AID (1-800-433-3243). Financial aid administrators across the country also participate
in free FAFSA events to help applicants fill out the form accurately. Look for a FAFSA
event in your area to get free, professional assistance to fill out the FAFSA.