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Answers to Your College Questions

Seven Most Common Errors People Make When Filing the FAFSA

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As parents of high school seniors begin to file the FAFSA, some are having difficulty completing the form accurately. To ensure that your FAFSA is completed correctly, be sure to avoid these seven commonly made errors:

  1. Listing non-working income (i.e., social security income) in the untaxed income category. If your non-working income already shows up as a part of adjusted gross income, you do not need to list it twice. Untaxed income and adjusted gross income are added together to arrive at total income. If you list non-working income in the untaxed income category, you will increase your EFC (expected family contribution) number.
  2. Listing the equity of your home or the value of retirement plans as an asset. These items should not be included.
  3. Listing student’s college savings as a student asset as opposed to a parent asset. In the 2013–2014 FAFSA, college savings accounts should be listed as a parent asset. This will reduce the EFC number.
  4. Not including all members of a household. When listing members in a household, anyone who lives in the parents’ household and receives more than 50 percent support from them, such as grandparents or older siblings, should be included.
  5. Listing parent income in the student income line item.
  6. For divorced families, including a parent who should not be included. Only the parent and/or stepparent with whom the student resides most of the time (i.e., for more than six out of the last twelve months) should be included. Divorce decrees or tax return exemptions are not involved in this decision.
  7. Waiting to complete the FAFSA until tax returns are filed in April. If you plan to file your taxes after mid-February, it is wiser to complete the FAFSA now using estimated information and then update your Student Aid Report (SAR) after you’ve completed your taxes.

Get more help with the FAFSA and other financial aid documents, plus understanding loan options, financial aid award letters, and more with the Financial Fit® program.

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Tagged in: FAFSA Financial Aid

Frank Palmasani is a Chicago area high school guidance counselor and former college director of admissions, and creator of Financial Fit. In 1985, Palmasani began delivering seminars on the college financial aid and planning process, and estimates that he has reached more than 200,000 people through his talks. He is a member of NACAC, IACAC, and the College Board. Palmasani has been featured in the Boston Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Yahoo! Finance, WGN-TV, WTTW-TV, CBS’s Monsters and Money in the Morning, and is the author of the forthcoming book Right College, Right Price (Sourcebooks, January 2013).


Palmasani is the founder of Financial Fit, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.

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