By Ryan Laspina
Senior Specialist, Red Flags and External Reviews at APUS
With 2016 now here, it is time to think about filling out the FAFSA for your 2016-17 school year. If it is your first time doing so, it can be a very stressful task. The FAFSA asks for a lot of personal information, and it can be very intimidating to sit down and attempt to fill it out for the first time. If you are a dependent, you will not only need your own financial information, but also your parents’ or guardians’ financial information. Unfortunately, there are people out there that want to take advantage of potential students by tricking them into thinking they can offer help when you are filling out the FAFSA. Here are tips for avoiding two of the best-known (and convincing) FAFSA scams:
Do not use a financial advisor to provide advice on how to receive more Federal Student Aid (FSA).
While financial advisors may be helpful in other areas of your life, they are probably not well-versed in FSA. It takes years of training and experience to become fluent in FSA, and the average financial advisor does not have that knowledge. Some financial advisors will erroneously insist that you need to buy certain financial instruments (life insurance, annuities, etc.) to get the most FSA. This is absolutely untrue. The amount of FSA you receive is determined by the college that you plan on attending. The information you put on the FAFSA does factor into the funds you will be receiving, but adding new expenses to gain more FSA is a very irresponsible financial practice.
Never hire a third party that offers help filling out the FAFSA.
Third parties charge a fee, and you can fill out the FAFSA for free (hence the name Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Yes, it may take some number crunching and an entire weekend of your time, but you should have all the information you need to fill out the FAFSA by yourself. If you are unsure of how to answer some questions on the FAFSA, your best resource is the financial aid representatives at your school. While they will not fill the entire application out for you, they will be happy to assist with a question here and there.
From someone who has filled out many FAFSAs throughout the year, I know how frustrating and stressful it can be. Obviously, the first time is going to be the most frustrating and most stressful. Try to use your free resources if you have questions. Your parents or guardians, a school representative or a trusted friend/neighbor would all be good resources if you are unsure of how to answer certain questions on the FAFSA. Do not let your stress or frustration over filling out the FAFSA allow you to get scammed!