FAFSA Online Secret: Leave No Entry Blank and Proofread the Form Thoroughly

The worst thing that can happen to your FAFSA application is for it to be rejected on sight. How does this happen? Errors. Errors will disqualify you from aid faster than you can say "typo". Your best defense is to double, triple, even quadruple check everything. Before you apply, gather up all your documentation - and we do mean ALL of it - and download a sample copy of the paper FAFSA and worksheets to practice on.

Remember that if you don't know the answer to something on the FAFSA, do not leave it blank. Put a zero there instead. If you take nothing else away from this FAFSA secrets tutorial, remember that a blank space is your worst enemy and a zero is your best friend. Why? The FAFSA EFC is computed using a formula, and blank spaces may yield a different result than zeroes. Additionally, if too many blanks are left on the FAFSA, the computer system may reject your FAFSA as erroneous.

Here's a list of what you should have on hand before starting the FAFSA process. You will need records of income earned in the year prior to when you will start school. You may also need records of your parent's income information if you are a dependent student.

For the 2014-2015 school year, you will need financial information from 2013. You will need to refer to:

  • Your Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)
  • Your driver's license (if any)
  • Your 2013 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse's, if you are married) 2013 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, or the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Your parents' 2013 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
  • Your 2013 untaxed income records - Social Security, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, welfare, or veterans benefits records
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records
  • Your alien registration or permanent residence card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

Best Advice

Check your work early and often. When you're done with the FAFSA on paper, have someone else with fresh eyes look at it for mistakes - do this even if you file it online.

Next Step:

FAFSA Online Secret: Timing is everything.

FAFSA Help Guide: Definition of a Parent