December 16, 2010 | Suzanne Shaffer | 1 Comment In just a few short weeks (January 1), the 2011 FAFSA will be available online. Use that acronym, and parents and students start to cringe. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) causes fear and dread, much like the dreaded yearly IRS forms. But truthfully, the FAFSA is just an online form that you complete in order to qualify for federal financial aid and provide colleges with the information they need when determining your financial aid package. However, it’s not as complicated as some might think; especially if you avoid these common mistakes: Don’t assume that your family income is too high to file the form. Even though you might not qualify for need based aid, you SHOULD complete the FAFSA. Colleges use the FAFSA information to determine all kinds of aid, including merit-based aid (which is not based on need). Plus, you can’t qualify for government loans if you don’t fill it out and submit it. Don’t wait to file the FAFSA until your taxes are done. The sooner you get the form in, the sooner the colleges will be able to access the information and utilize it to determine financial aid. If you are able to file your 1040 early, that’s great; but don’t wait until April 15 to complete the FAFSA. If you do, you could miss out on all the money available through financial aidâ€”it’s always FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE! Don’t enter the WRONG income tax figures. Provide the federal income tax you paid or will pay based on your 2010 federal tax returnâ€”NOT the tax withholdings on you and your spouse’s W-2 forms. If you don’t have your federal tax return ready early, use last year’s return. You can go back and file a correction if you need to. Don’t leave blank answers. If the answer is zero, write “0” or N/A. If you leave blanks you might cause miscalculations and the form could be rejected. Don’t forget to list the colleges. On the FAFSA form, you can include up to 10 colleges that you are applying to. By doing this, the schools will get your information directly when the form is processed. Don’t type a wrong Social Security or driver’s license number. Check and recheck these numbers for accuracy. List the most current marital status. You need to state what your marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA, whether you are married, separated or divorced. This affects the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) formula. Don’t inflate your education. If both parents didn’t GRADUATE from college, don’t list “college” as the highest education attained. Plenty of colleges treat applicants more favorably if they are considered “first-generation” college students. Don’t assume you won’t qualify for financial aid because of your home equity or retirement accounts. The FAFSA doesn’t even ask if you own a house so the amount of home equity is irrelevant. The FAFSA does ask about second homes or real estate investments, however. The FAFSA doesn’t have questions about retirement accounts. You can have hundreds of thousands stuffed away in retirement accounts and it won’t hurt your chances at getting financial aid. It does however ask about cash, savings and checking accounts. Don’t assume that the federal FAFSA deadline for filing is the same as your state or college deadline. Always check with the financial aid office. But again, the best advice available is to file EARLY, as soon as the form becomes available and you have the required information. Avoiding these 10 mistakes will assure your FAFSA is completed on time and correctly. Do you have any FAFSA questions? I would love to answer them for you. Please leave a comment here and I would be happy to assist you.