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The FAFSA form isn’t difficult to fill out, but filling it out wrong can cost you thousands of dollars in financial aid. Avoid these mistakes to make sure FAFSA helps you afford college.

1. Not filling out the FAFSA

Fear of student loan debt might prevent families that have saved for college from filling out the FAFSA. But before you throw all your college savings at first year tuition, fill out the FAFSA! The information is used for more than qualifying for student loans. You could lose out on federal grants, state grants, or need-based scholarships. The extra money you receive may eliminate or reduce future borrowing.

2. Not Including a School Code

The FAFSA form provides your financial information to schools, but it can’t do so if you haven’t named the schools you're considering. Include all the schools you're applying to, up to the ten school limit. List schools from your state first, in case your state cares about the order of their placement on your FAFSA application. If school choices change after you fill out the form, simply log back on to add or delete schools.

3. Closing the confirmation page before reading it

When you finish filling out the FAFSA, you feel done. Not quite. Read the confirmation page for additional information such as scholarships available and links for applying for state-based aid. For instance, the New York state application for their state schools Tuition Assistance Program grant is linked from the confirmation page. Forgetting this click could cost a family over $5,000.

4. Thinking filling out the form is all you need to do to optimize financial aid

Here are two of the best things you can do when trying to pay for college while incurring the least amount of debt. First, speak with your high school counselors. They can tell you about local and national scholarships you might qualify for. Second, speak to college financial aid counselors at the schools you're applying to. They will provide you with info regarding scholarships specific to majors or even your talents.

5. Not filling out special circumstances forms

Family financial situations change. If income has decreased dramatically for any reason since the tax year reported on the FAFSA, you’ll want to tell the school you've chosen. To do this, detail your situation in a special circumstances form, available from the institution. This may help open up need-based aid previously unavailable to the student.

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