Tips for a smooth FAFSA application process

Each spring, families with college-bound children find themselves filling out the Free...

Each spring, families with college-bound children find themselves filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and it can be a tedious and laborious process.

If you are seeking financial aid from the federal government to fund a college education, this form is a must because the U.S. Department of Education relies on it to determine eligibility. On a yearly basis, the government distributes roughly $150 billion in aid to students who need it to pay for their college education. When completing the FAFSA, keep the following five tips in mind:

Fill out the form online

If you use FAFSA on the Web, you can transfer your federal tax return information directly from the Internal Revenue Service database to your application. By doing this, you will reduce the amount of time your college needs to verify the information you provided.

Make sure the appropriate parent completes the form

If your parents are separated or divorced, you should ask the parent with whom you have lived the majority of the preceding year to fill out the form. This may not be your legal guardian. Students who lived an equal amount of time with each parent over the previous year should ask the parent who provided the most financial support to fill out the form.

Do not make mistakes or omit answers

When there is no financial value to indicate for a particular item on the form, use the figure "0" rather than leaving the value blank. When evaluating your form, the Department of Education may interpret blank spaces as overlooked items, which could cause a processing delay.

Similarly, be careful when reporting your Social Security number. Transposed numbers and other errors can cause significant delays. The same holds true for your date of birth. It is not uncommon for applicants to inadvertently report the current year as their year of birth.

Be accurate in answering education questions

Another common FAFSA error involves students indicating they are seeking a professional degree when they are actually preparing to participate in a vocational program. High school seniors applying for the first time sometimes indicate they have a degree, when they are actually about to receive a diploma.

Check with your financial aid office

If your family has experienced unusual circumstances such as a divorce or death in the immediate family, consult the office of financial aid at the college in which you plan to enroll. A financial aid worker may be able to help you fill out portions of the form in an effort to increase your financial aid eligibility.

Do not assume you are not eligible for financial aid and skip filling out the FAFSA. There are many myths about federal financial aid, including that only students with excellent grades are eligible. If you have general questions about your family finances and financial aid, contact an Atlanta financial advisor.

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