4 essential FAFSA tips

The FAFSA is now available for families of HS seniors and college students starting October 1 and will use tax info from 2 years prior to the term being applied for (2016 tax year info for students starting college in Fall 2018), which was a change made last year.

We see families commonly make significant mistakes that cost them thousands of dollars; here are 4 essential tips for maximizing your opportunity to get money for college:


  • Families should file as close to the Oct. 1 date as possible because some of the financial aid is first come, first served. That means a family could literally qualify for some aid, but actually miss out on it because it was already handed out.


  • All families should complete the FAFSA, regardless of how much money they make. Even if they won’t qualify for aid based on their income, we regularly see families get free merit aid just for completing it. The FAFSA is also the application for federal student loans, work study funds, and institutional aid offered directly by the college — folks won’t get any of those dollars if they do not apply.


  • The value of qualified retirement assets and your primary residence are exempt and do not need to be disclosed. Mistakenly listing your $150,000 401(k) could unnecessarily disqualify you from aid you should otherwise receive.


  • Don’t forget to include the student you are applying for in the requested “Number of Family Members in College,” another common mistake. Enter the number of people in your household who will attend college at the same time.