7 Myths About the FAFSA and Applying for Financial Aid

myths

I’m currently a junior in college, which means the 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM) will be the last time I complete the FAFSA. However, my sister is going to be starting college in the fall and will be filling out the FAFSA for the first time. Luckily for her, she’ll have me to help her along the way.

Looking back to the first time I completed the FAFSA, I remember some misconceptions that I had about filling it out —and some of my friends had the same ones. Turns out these myths weren’t true. The FAFSA really is an easy-to-complete, online application that will help you plan for and finance your education.

I wanted to share some of these common myths about the FAFSA and applying for financial aid with you. You can also check out Federal Student Aid’s video that addresses these common myths!

  1. I won’t qualify for financial aid because my parents (or I) make too much money.
    Actually, there isn’t an income cutoff to qualify for financial aid. Your eligibility for financial aid is based on a number of factors and not just your or your parents’ income. Plus, many states and schools use your FAFSA data to determine your eligibility for their aid. Fill out the application and find out what you can get!
  2. I don’t have good grades, so I won’t be eligible for financial aid.
    Completing the FAFSA isn’t the same as applying to college. Most federal student aid programs don’t take your grades into consideration when you apply. Just remember, once you’re in college, you do need to maintain satisfactory academic progress  in order to continue receiving federal aid.
  3. I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.
    Federal student aid programs don’t take your age into consideration.
  4. The application is too hard to fill out!
    Since it’s available online, the FAFSA is easier than ever to complete. The form uses “skip logic,” so you are only asked the questions that are relevant to you. If you’ve filed your taxes, then you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA automatically. And as you go through the application, there will be guided assistance in the margins to help you answer each question. Plus, the FAFSA website has a Help page that addresses most frequently asked questions.
  5.   I have to wait until I (my parents) file taxes.
    Since some colleges have FAFSA deadlines that are before the tax filing deadline, it’s important to complete the FAFSA early. You can use estimates on your FAFSA by basing them off of last year’s taxes. After you file your taxes, you can log back into the FAFSA and input your updated tax information.
  6. I support myself, so I don’t have to include parent info.
    This is not necessarily true. Even if you support yourself and file taxes on your own, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. You can determine your dependency status by answering these questions. If you are independent, you don’t need to include your parents’ information on your FAFSA. If you are dependent, you need to provide your parents’ information.
  7. I completed the FAFSA my freshman year, so I don’t have to complete it again.
    As I said, this will be my fourth time completing the FAFSA. You should complete the FAFSA each year you plan to attend college or career school.

What are you waiting for? Start your application now at www.fafsa.gov!

Mark Valdez is a student at Brown University and an intern with the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

41 Comments

  1. Interesting. Wonder what you did that I didn’t. I filled out a FAFSA three times. I never got anything, like, at all. No response of any kind what so ever.

  2. I owe around 375 dollars on a student loan and its keeping me from going back to college until its paid off, are there any programs or support agencies i could contact to forgo this loan. pds

    • The $375 is probably owed to the school & in default preventing you from reapplying until the old debt is paid. CLARIFY what the fee IS for. (could be a bounced check, parking fee, dorm damage fee, colleges charge a “activity fee”, it could be a plethora of reasons). FIND OUT and ask for alternatives to settle up.

  3. One needs to be clear about the differences between financial aid and a loan.
    Filling out the FASFA is the first step in a student loan. A Wiliam O. Ford student loan
    comes with a 7.9% interest rate and a 4 point loan fee for the majority of borrowers.
    The parent will have to cosign. The loan is almost always granted. The federal government is the actual lender. So if you want to borrow money at 8% interst rate with a 4 point loan fee- sign up! When banks were loaning money for homes at those interest rates, members of congress were on the capital steps making speeches about those evil banks and their predatory loans. Now those same congressmen are loaning you the money. And when one year at a public 4 year state college now costs 20K , don’t forget to apply for a lucrative Pell Grant!
    So – colleges raise annual costs at an eponential rate. No one can afford the costs, so the federal government simply loans everyone the money. The checks go directly to the college btw.
    Don’t sweat the loan application detals – you will get the loan if you have a credit score above 550 and can hold a pen.
    Did I mention that the loan will stay with you forever and is not dischargable in bankruptcy. neither student nor parent can get out the loan – ever.
    Its not financial aid – its a loan!

    • I sent in a blog a short time ago and checked to see if it posted. I was concerned to see next to my comments – the words ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’.
      As a follow up to my previous remarks – you don’t have to begain making payments until you graduate. If you borrow money for your freshman year and aren’t required to begin making payments for 4 years – you will still be charged interest for the the 4 years.
      So – if you borrow 20,000 for your freshman year – the loan will be around 27,000 before you make your first payment 4 yers later.
      There are some exceptions for a small group of borrowers – good luck getting in that small group.

  4. I’ll be a graduate student beginning in the fall of 2014, so I’m independent.

    I’m unsure about how to answer one question on the FAFSA.

    I’m checking the box in front of “Money received or paid on your behalf” because my father helped support me as an undergraduate. FAFSA then asks me to give “Money received or paid on your behalf (e.g. bills), not reported elsewhere on this form.”

    Should the amount I report be just what my father gave me for living expenses, or should it also include what he paid for my college tuition?

  5. My child is applying to enter a doctorate program and has received a Masters degree, so now can file as an independent. While working on the Masters degree, she worked as a teaching assistant and was paid by the university. This teaching assistant income was shown on her W-2. The FAFSA application asks how much money was received from a teaching assistant position, is this counting that money double? Should she put the amount down as income from W-2 and other?

    • No, this is not counting that money twice as income – just the opposite! Money earned from a teaching assistantship will be subtracted from her total income in calculating her estimated ability to pay.

  6. FAFSA – where to begin, seriously – I could go on / on about it but here are a few of my hi-lites…we are parents who make an adequate income to afford a moderate house, used cars, 3 kids, save for retirement, etc. but the FAFSA shows we have an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) of $30K. (a) where do they think you’ll come up with an extra $30K – out of what fund. Sell my house, ride a bike, stop contributing to my retirement fund? Stop paying for daughter #1 and daughter #2′s college? That is a ridiculous amount of “EFC”. Who comes up with this and how outdated is this process. They don’t ask anywhere what your current debt is and they don’t care at all that you borrowed D1 and D2′s college money from a private fund because the interest was considerably less than the Federal interest rate on student loans in order to save some money because they don’t care – they need the income and how much you have in savings plus how much federal money you’ve borrowed for government statistics. (b) All 3 of our children went to a state school and got scholarships based on their efforts / grades from high school – you can’t even get YOUR scholarship money (money that you earned from your hard work in high school) until your parents file the FAFSA – I DON’T WANT TO FILE THE FAFSA – I’m obviously not going to get any FREE money since they tell me that I can afford to pay an extra $30K / year. But she doesn’t get HER scholarship until we file the FAFSA. WHY? We don’t want to borrow any government money. It’s too expensive.

    I can stop there but here’s my point – if you need money and want to borrow it from the government – file the FAFSA and then figure out how you are going to come up with the extra $30k to pay for your kids college. If not – why is it a requirement.

    • The way the “system” works now is that only the very poor (or those who can hide their income) get financial aid. The net result is that only the very rich and the poor can go to college. The middle class is paying for the poor to go to college and for their health insurance driving the middle class into poverty. So we are becoming a two class society.
      All the middle class kids I know are going to community colleges because they can not afford other colleges. The smaller expensive colleges have high enrollment from inner cities and poor communities since the government(middle class) and endowment funds are supporting them to go to college.

      • My wife and I aren’t poor, have an average amount of consumer debt, our daughter works and has a scholarship. We have gotten loans for the last 2 years. Not that I’m thrilled to fill out the FAFSA or pay the high cost of college that is driven by these loans. It’s a racket. Why else would the cost of a college education rise far more quickly that inflation.

    • I couldn’t agree with these people more. My husband and I are teachers and still owe payments of almost 500 dollars a month on our student loans and are paying for a house every month. The federal government bought our student loans (without our consent). My one daughter is attending a state university, Mizzou, and the government says we can contribute about 800 dollars a month–rediculous. We are are in our 50′s and have lots of expenses. Luckily our car is paid off. My daughter graduated valedictorian and with scholarships. These scholarships are a drop in the bucket toward the college costs. She doesn’t qualify for any grants–if we were still attending school and not just paying back the government on student loans for us–charged at 6.9% then she might qualify for something. I refuse to sign a parent loan, since we already owe the government so much on our schooling. By the way, being a teacher with a masters degree does NOT pay off, ever. You have to just want to teach… Educators don’t make big bucks. Oh, and my daughter is also not considered a minority; she is just a white, caucasion, so she qualifies for nothing. We are having to scrape up and borrow the 830 dollars a month that her student loans don’t cover-she is borrowing the max she can– they tried to get us to sign for parent loans for more and we are not. The college has a policy that she live on compas for her freshman year. They won’t even consider her for a student work program because the ” kids from families with lower income” get considered for those jobs. Don’t think her sister will be able to go there–we can’t afford it–she’s a freshman in highschool and a straight A student, too. As everyone knows–brains don’t seem to count–if you are a very intelligent student and are middle class you don’t get anything–only the poor and the rich. Years ago, when I was divorced and trying to take evening classes, I got grants for one year, based on my income–my college was free. Something is wrong with the system.

      • I hope this does not come off as disparaging or sarcastic, as it is not meant as such. However, it is not a “right” to go to the school of your choice. You do not have a right to the home or auto of your choice, neither do you have a right to the school of your choice. If the one you want to go to is too expensive, choose another. For any given field there are probably five to ten top schools that, after you graduate, it matters where you went. Otherwise research shows clearly that there is no long term income difference from attending a more expensive school.
        I am a CPA. I took my accounting classes at a local community college. I am just as much a CPA as someone who graduated from Harvard or Wharton. There are other options than your “preferred” school.

      • Are you serious…my daughter does not qualify for 1 thin dime and she is BLACK. And that is because we are middle class. It is nothing to do with black/white but everything to do with green. IF you want to be upset about something then get upset about all of the criminals who are allowed to pursue a college education [FOR FREE] while they are in jail. Get mad about *most* of these young welfare mothers who are probably healthier than you and me who can get a college education [FOR FREE]…something about that just does not sit well with me. I have my Masters and let me tell you…I DID not qualify for and grants I did not received any assistance. I had to pay for my education ON MY OWN and I am still BLACK and considered a minority…nobody was throwing money at me…believe me I was looking for it and I don’t expect anyone to throw money at us when my daughter enters college next year…the only HELP we will be receiving is the help of our paychecks that we receive bi weekly or student loans. This is an issue with our government…not an issue of skin color. I work in the human services realm and can barely contain myself when I see folks getting government assistance in to go to college for free while me and my husband try to devise a tactic to pay for college for our two daughters.

      • Just an FYI (I’m black) and my Fasfa gives me nothing but options of loans , loans and more loans without grant or other opportunities. I do agree the system is broken. In paying school out of pocket as I am trying to pay loans I already have from college and I’m a straight A student. I think the money teachers are paid are atrocious and they definitely deserve so much more. I hope one day we can learn to invest better in future generations and the educators who guide them. But all in all the Fafsa is a joke I think it told me I am expected to attribute 10,000 a year and that’s a third of my salary.

  7. when does FAFSA make a decision if aid will be made? I’ve submitted FAFSA form but my parents won’t be doing their taxes until April and entered estimates.

  8. I am worried. Our EFC said 30,000. I work 3 jobs and my husband is disabled and makes a small amount of disability. My income is good as I am trying to work towards buying another home. We had our home foreclosed on when my husband became so sick, several years ago. I am worried that my daughter who will be a freshman in college in the Fall will get no financial aid and she will not be able to go. Please help me understand my options, if I have any. Thanks

    • Community college is the only answer aside from borrowing. You only get financial aid if you can show a low income.

      • if you are working three jobs and your EFC is saying $30,000. then you have to be making an error in your filing.

    • I am not an expert in the FASFA and this is not professional advice.
      Part of the FASFA asks how much of your income is from wages. This is meant to distinguish interest or investment income that would represent a amount of principal that could be used for education expenses. It is possible that when you completed that FASFA that you may not have indicated your husband’s disability income as from wages, which would lead to the conclusion there are income earning assets. With today’s low interest rates a mere $1000 a year in interest income could mean you have over $100K in interest earning assets, which you could be using to pay for education.
      From what you say that is not the case. I would suggest you carefully read the FASFA instructions to see how you should be reporting disability income as that could be part or all of your issue.

  9. Since our daughter went to undergraduate school in 2001, the first form was a bear to fill out. Some HS’s give a seminar to get the seniors started. I think that is a wonderful idea. Having been a HS teacher years ago, I know senior year has enough of it’s own issue. Find out if your HS offers this. If not, push for it. We just did it over a few days. By the time she graduated, we had a big, fat, FAFSA folder. Following years were much, much easier. NO FAFSA when I went to school, if parents are uncooperative, sinks your chances. Now it seems to be mandatory. Hurray! Being online, HURRAY!.

  10. The first year is the “hardest” one to get through (to be specific, it is still much easier than it once was, but you have to enter all requested information the first time you apply). Subsequent years are a breeze as the web form recalls all your previously entered information and requires you to only update the “fluid” portions (income for example). I have done this for 4 children, starting in the 1980′s with the nasty paper applications and ending in 2008 with the online version. The last time I filled out the FAFSA it took me all of 10 minutes – from login to submission. Believe me, it is a breeze to complete.

  11. I retired 12/31/13 and my income for 2014 forward will only be 1/3 what I made in 2013. My child will be attending college this fall and if I base FAFSA off 2013 it will grossly misrepresent my current income for 2014. Can this change in income be taken into account for 2014?

    • You still have to put last years info into the FAFSA, BUT you can go and talk to the financial aid office of the school your child will be attending. The school can then decide whether or not to change/update your information. You do need to take paperwork showing how much you are getting paid now as opposed to last year. Some schools are more flexible in this than others so you may want to talk to each school your child is considering so you can decide which is more affordable. Fill out the FAFSA asap though, because if has to process before you can talk to the financial aid dept.

    • Just went through a similar situation last year. I have 3 boys in College. My two youngest started last fall and I quit my job halfway through that FAFSA year to return to school myself. You will need to contact each school and ask which paperwork and documentation they require. Every school seems to have a different procedure and/or forms. You can sometimes find the necessary forms buried on their website. Some schools refer to the form as a “Judgment” or “Change in Circumstances” form while other schools refer to it as an “Appeal” and may only require a letter stating the reason for your request with attached documentation. However, remember each school has some sort of procedure, even if someone in their office tells you over the phone they don’t, so be persistent. Also, be prepared that most schools may not consider your request until after the award letter has been sent based on the FAFSA. This can be very frustrating as the deadline to committing and/or housing deposits can come very close the decisions on the appeal. So keep in contact with each Finaid office to make sure that your paperwork has been received and is being processed timely. In addition, the aid awarded after the appeal is solely at the discretion of the individual school and the additional amounts awarded can vary widely, making getting that info timely so important when trying to decide on a school. Surprisingly, a lot of schools had no idea what I was talking about or what documents they required when I initially contacted them. This sent me on rounds of phone transfers and call backs. As few people who answered the finaid phones had a clue what I was talking about, it is very important to establish a contact in the financial aid office and communicate in writing. It will take likely more than a few phone calls and emails and last minute faxes before you provide exactly what each particular school requires but, the additional award can be substantial and definitely worth pursuing. Good luck.

    • Yes the change in the income can be taken in account. Check with the Schools Financial Aid Department and request a Professional Judgment based on Reduced Income.

  12. The first one is a complete lie! EVERY school my daughter applied to told us we didn’t qualify due to income restrictions. 15 schools, 15 rejections for aid based on income.

    • I’m assuming you probably still qualified for some sort of government loans- that is still considered aid.

  13. I am confused about where to put my unemployment insurance payments on the FAFSA. I did a 1040 A tax return and the unemployment is listed on a line that it never asks me to fill-in? Also because I am on unemployment does that mean that I am considered A dislocated worker?

    • Unemployment income is reported as “other untaxed income” on the FAFSA, unless you recieved in excess of $2400.00 in 2013, in which case, it was taxable income and does not need to be reported separately from your adjusted gross income.

      The standard for being a dislocated worker is different than just being unemployed- to qualify as a dislocated worker, you have to have previously worked for an industry in which you can no longer actively seek work, because the industry is no longer available in your area. The job literally has to relocate or go belly up in order to meet the definition, and there can’t be comparable work nearby in a similar field or industry.

    • You should be able to contact a financial aid representative at the school you will be attending that can answer that question. Some schools even offer a “FAFSA” day to help you complete the forms (our local high school does it for free).

  14. I have four children, my last beginning her senior year in college–so this cycle will be our last FAFSA to complete. Plus, I went through the process several years ago in pursuit of an advanced degree. The process has definitely gotten easier over the years. However, the driving force of most financial aid, including many scholarships, are the incomes of the parents and students from the previous year and sometimes, the current year. The only exceptions are non-need-based scholarships/grants awarded by schools, parent Plus loans, and private loans the parents or students may obtain. Even outside private scholarships that a student may be awarded often changes the financial aid package awarded by his/her college. Obviously scholarships and grants are free money and preferable. Even some federal student loans are technically based on “need,” which in reality means what the Dept of Education’s EFC formula feels you “should need,” not what your family’s budget may “actually need.” I am not inferring that the system is inherently inequitable; our experiences found that there are some differences in financial aid packages awarded, so compare award packages carefully. An experienced parent told me a few years back–before all of mine were in college, that the package your student gets the first year is representative of what he/she will get the next three years. This has proven to be true with my four children, with little exception. Of course, if your family situation changes dramatically, i.e. unemployment, substantial change in family income, etc., that statement would not be true.

  15. “You can use estimates on your FAFSA by basing them off of last year’s taxes.”

    …basing them ON last year’s taxes!

    A base is a foundation you build upon.

    • It also means “the fundamental part of something.” They calculate FAFSA “based” on income. Using the past year sets a guideline that could increase or decrease based on that prior years income. Get a grip Mark.

  16. i am going to fill my first tax return this year and i apply for financial aid already ,will i be eligible for it or after i fill the tax return?

    • Your eligibility for federal student aid depends on the results of your FAFSA and the results are latex on your confirmation page. If you did not download your tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA you will likely be verified and be required to download the taxes from the IRS or be required to provide a tax transcriptto the financial aid office.

      • Additionally, if you use the IRS data retrieval tool, and married after Jan’ 1st, 2013, or, make changes to the information pulled from the IRS, your school will request copies of your taxes. Additionally, if you report “will file”, many financial aid officers will select your FAFSA for verification to ensure that the estimated information reported isn’t substantially different from what was furnished to the IRS.

  17. It is great when somebody that has gone through the experience share it for others who are just about to go through it. Finance is one of those topics in which somebody that is trailblazing is really helpful to others.

  18. I am Lecturer at Department of Teacher Education, University of Karachi having seven year experience. I want to do Ed.D from USA. Can I apply for FASFA. If no, then what are alternatives?

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