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Resources > FAFSA > FAFSA Tips for Parents—How To Avoid Common Mistakes and Maximize Financial Aid

FAFSA Tips for Parents—How To Avoid Common Mistakes and Maximize Financial Aid

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) gets your child one step closer to securing federal financial aid, which can help them cover college expenses like tuition, room and board, and books and supplies. Financial aid is more than welcome to help pay for your child’s college as statistics reveal that the total cost of college at a four-year in-state institution adds up to more than $26,000.

However, getting approved for financial aid highly depends on how you handle the application process. In this article, we’ll reveal the most important FAFSA tips for parents to help you secure federal college funding for your child and maximize the amount of money they can get.

Best FAFSA Tips for Parents

How and when you file the FAFSA form impacts whether your child will get financial aid and how much money they’ll be awarded. Luckily, there are several actions you can take before and during the application process to ensure you get the most out of it. Here are the top tips you should follow when it’s time for your child to fill out the FAFSA:

  1. Apply early
  2. Fill out the correct form
  3. Use the IRS data retrieval tool
  4. Reduce reportable income
  5. Decrease reportable assets
  6. Save money in your name
  7. File the FAFSA regardless of your expectations

Apply Early

Filing your child’s FAFSA form early is the best way to ensure they receive federal aid. Many schools have limited funding, so firstcomers have an advantage in getting scholarships and grants. Once the school or state runs out of funding for a certain grant or scholarship, they’re unable to offer it anymore, even to qualified applicants.

Besides this advantage, submitting the FAFSA form early can help you ensure you don’t miss the deadline, which is June 30 at the end of the academic year. For example, to be considered for the 2024–25 award year, you and your child must complete the FAFSA by June 30, 2025. However, the application first opens in the fall of the previous academic year (in this case, December 2023), so applying as soon as possible will ensure your child gets financial aid for the targeted academic year.

Fill Out the Correct Form

Ensure you only use the official FAFSA form when applying for federal aid and confirm that the year you’re applying for is the same one when your child is supposed to attend college. For example, if 2023–24 is your child’s high school senior year, you must complete the 2024–25 FAFSA form to qualify for aid. Otherwise, your application will be rejected even if you’ve completed all other information correctly.

Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

Entering financial information into the FAFSA form can be both stressful and time-consuming since you have to make sure all the numbers are accurate. Luckily, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to automatically transfer tax information into the FAFSA form. However, not everyone is eligible to use the IRS DRT. You and your child are ineligible if:

  • You or your child is married, and either of you or your spouses filed as “Married Filing Separately” or as “Head of Household”
  • Your marital status is “Unmarried and both legal parents living together”
  • You or your child filed a Puerto Rican tax return, a foreign tax return, or an IRS Form 1040-NR
  • You or your child filed tax returns electronically in the last three weeks or via the mail in the last 11 weeks

If none of this applies to you or your child, you can use the IRS DRT to export all the tax information directly into the application form to speed up the process and ensure data accuracy.

Reduce Reportable Income

Many types of financial aid are need-based, which means lower-income families have higher chances of securing aid. To calculate how much aid is available to your child, the government assesses your ability to pay for college by considering your base year income, which is typically the prior-prior year’s tax return. For example, for the 2024–25 academic year, the government would consider your income information for the 2023 tax year.

If your child is a dependent student, you must accurately report both your income and their income if they earn their own money. While you should never try to mislead the government regarding your reportable income, you can take several proactive steps during the base year to reduce reportable income and get more federal funding for your child’s college. Here’s what you can do:

  • Avoid realizing capital gains—You can reduce reportable income by not selling any profitable investments in the FAFSA base year. That way, you won’t have to report the increase in monetary value on the FAFSA form since you haven’t made any money from selling them
  • Refrain from tapping into retirement savings—If you’re retired, consider not taking money out of your retirement account during the FAFSA base year and rely on other savings instead since any funds taken from retirement accounts are considered reportable income for FAFSA purposes. If you reduce or delay withdrawals from your retirement account in the base year, it seems like you have less income, which may qualify your child for more financial aid

Decrease Reportable Assets

Besides reportable income, FAFSA also considers reportable assets when calculating your child’s eligibility for financial aid. These include anything your family owns, such as real estate, savings accounts, investments, and checking account balances.

The simplest way to reduce the amount of reportable assets you have is to pay off debt. For example, if you have $30,000 in savings and $20,000 in credit card debt, you can reduce reportable assets by $20,000 by paying off debt. This can positively impact your credit score, save you money on interest, and get your child closer to securing financial aid.

Save Money in Your Name

While it’s true that FAFSA considers the assets both you and your child own, your child’s assets are assessed at 20%, while your assets are only assessed at up to 5.64%. This means that if your child has $10,000 in their savings, their aid eligibility is reduced by $2,000. However, if you own the same amount of money, their aid eligibility is only reduced by up to $564.

This is why you may consider saving money for your child’s college in your own name instead of opening a savings account in their name to increase their chances of receiving more financial aid.

File the FAFSA Regardless of Your Expectations

Your child should apply for federal financial aid regardless of your family income or expectations—the application is free, and it may help you secure your child’s college funding. Here are a few reasons why filling out the FAFSA can be worth the effort:

  • It’s great for obtaining low-cost loans—Federal loans are lower-cost compared to private loans, and filling out the FAFSA is the main requirement to qualify for federal loans
  • It can help your child get a merit-based scholarship—Many scholarship opportunities require your child to file the FAFSA form even if they’re not need-based, so submitting the FAFSA can increase their chances of getting a scholarship
  • It can open the door to various financial aid options—If you’re not sure which financial aid options your child qualifies for, filing FAFSA through your child’s school can help you learn what federal and state financial aid they’re eligible for

Common FAFSA Mistakes To Avoid

Filling out the FAFSA form incorrectly or skipping important application steps may affect your child’s eligibility for financial aid. Here are the most common mistakes applicants make when completing the FAFSA:

  1. Not registering for an FSA ID before filling out the FAFSA
  2. Listing only one college
  3. Reporting information incorrectly
  4. Leaving too many blank fields
  5. Not signing the FAFSA form

Not Registering for an FSA ID Before Filling Out the FAFSA

Before completing the FAFSA form, both you and your child should get an FSA ID because you may need to wait up to three days when you register for it before you can use it. An FSA ID is a personal account that lets you and your child log in to StudentAid.gov and access the U.S. Department of Education systems.

Having separate FSA IDs allows you and your child to sign the FAFSA form if you’re applying online, which is highly recommended as it speeds up the process. Don’t share a FAFSA ID with your child as this can cause problems and delays in the application process.

Listing Only One College

Unless your child is applying to only one college, encourage them to include more than one option on the FAFSA form. Colleges can’t see the other schools a student is interested in, so there’s no harm in listing multiple institutions they’re considering. 

They’re allowed to include up to ten colleges on their FAFSA form—if they don’t end up applying or getting accepted, the college will just disregard their FAFSA form.

Reporting Information Incorrectly

Ensure all the information you include in the FAFSA form is entered accurately. Otherwise, your child’s application may not be accepted. This especially refers to the following:

  • Social Security number (SSN)—Double- and triple-­check your and your child’s SSN to ensure accuracy as this number is among the most important information you’ll have to provide
  • Your legal name—Your and your child’s name on their FAFSA form must be the same as on your Social Security cards, so avoid using nicknames or any other name variations on the form
  • Your address—You must enter the permanent residency address for both you and your child
  • Federal income tax paid amount—This is the amount found on your income tax return forms from two years prior, not your W‐2 form
  • Marital status—The Department of Education wants to know your marital status on the day you sign the FAFSA

Leaving Too Many Blank Fields

Leaving too many blank spaces on the FAFSA form can lead to miscalculations and even rejected applications. Instead of leaving certain questions unanswered, you should enter “0” or “not applicable” if your situation allows for this.

Not Signing The FAFSA Form

Unsigned FAFSA forms are considered incomplete and won’t be processed, so make sure not to submit the form before you and your child have signed it with your respective FSA IDs. There are two issues you may encounter when trying to sign the form:

  1. You’ve created an FSA ID but forgot your username or password—In this case, you can select “Forgot My Username” and/or “Forgot My Password” and change the login info to renew access
  2. You’re unable to sign the form with your FSA ID—If this happens, you have the option to use a signature page which allows you to sign your FAFSA form by printing it, signing it, and mailing it

Does the FAFSA Require a Credit Check?

Federal student aid applications typically don’t require a credit check, so you don’t need to include your credit information on the FAFSA form. However, there are two types of student loans that will require a credit check:

Type of LoanExplanation
Direct PLUS loansDesigned for professional or graduate students (Grad PLUS) or their parents (Parent PLUS), these federal loans require a good credit score to approve you or your child for the loan. If your or your child’s credit score doesn’t meet the lender’s standards, you may be denied the loan
Private student loansFamilies typically rely on private student loans if federal financial aid and scholarships aren’t enough to cover college expenses. Private lenders usually check your child’s credit to assess their eligibility for a loan, and they may also consider your credit score if you’re the co-signer

Building a good credit score early can help your child ensure more college financing options like these loans and later improve their chances of:

  • Getting financing for a vehicle or credit card
  • Qualifying for better jobs
  • Obtaining mortgages or rental housing

A great way to help your child start building credit early is to rely on credit building services like those offered by FreeKick. The CARD Act of 2009 prohibits anyone under 21 from obtaining a credit card and establishing a credit score this way, but FreeKick offers a simple solution to this limitation through parent-sponsored credit building for children as young as 13.

FreeKick—Premium Credit Building and ID Protection

Provided by Austin Capital Bank, FreeKick is an FDIC-insured deposit account that allows young adults and minors aged 13–25 to build credit with their parents’ help. The platform also offers identity monitoring and protection services for your whole family, covering up to two adult parents and six children.

Start Building Credit Early With FreeKick

Starting their credit building journey early can help your child potentially save over $200,000 in their lifetime by increasing their chances of obtaining loans with favorable interest rates and terms. This is why FreeKick lets you help your child start building credit from the age of 13 through parent-sponsored credit building. Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Create an Account—Go to FreeKick.bank and choose a plan that aligns with your family’s needs and budget
  2. Set It and Forget It—When the account is activated, FreeKick automatically starts building your child’s credit over the next 12-month period
  3. Keep Growing—Once the first 12 months end, you can either renew the account and keep building your child’s credit or close it and get a refund of your initial deposit

Keep Your Identity Protected With FreeKick

If your child’s personal information is unprotected, identity criminals may steal it and use it to apply for financial aid, which automatically makes your child’s application invalid. This is especially concerning since recent data reveals that a child’s identity is stolen every 30 seconds.

To help prevent identity theft of both minors and adults, FreeKick offers comprehensive identity monitoring and protection features for your whole family. Here’s what the service includes:

Services for Adult Children and ParentsServices for Minor Children
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Lost wallet protection
Court records monitoring
Change of address monitoring
Non-credit (Payday) loan monitoring
Free FICO® Score monthly
FICO® Score factors
Experian credit report monthly
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for children’s personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Sex offender monitoring—based on sponsor parent’s address

FreeKick Pricing

FreeKick offers a plan that fits any family’s needs and budget. Both available plans are FDIC-insured up to $250,000. Find more details in the table below:

FDIC-Insured Deposit AmountPlan Fee
$3,000$0 (Free)
No deposit$149/year

Help your child secure a solid financial future and protect your family from the risk of identity theft—sign up for FreeKick today.