The Importance of Filing the FAFSA Early and Honestly

  [Photo credit: Lending Memo, cc license] Today: two stories on financial aid. First, financial aid isn't always as simple as qualifying according to need--when you file also matters. Also, defrauding the government with regard to financial aid is a terrible idea.

Today: two stories on financial aid. First, financial aid isn’t always as simple as qualifying according to need–when you file also matters. Also, defrauding the government with regard to financial aid is a terrible idea.

A forthcoming report in Research in Higher Education details how students who file later often don’t have their full financial needs met. This is, in part, because financial aid is limited. In the report, “FAFSA Filing Among First-Year College Students: Who Files on Time, Who Doesn’t, and Why Does It Matter?” there were four key takeaways (bullet points from the Chronicle of Higher Education):

  • Community-college students are especially likely to not file a FAFSA or to file it late.
  • Late filers receive less total state and institutional grant aid, on average, than do those who file early.
  • Delaying college entry and attending part time are strongly associated with not filing a FAFSA or filing it late.
  • The additional grant aid received by early FAFSA filers over late ones would be enough to support students taking an additional course during their first year.

A deadline for the FAFSA can be a confusing issue for many students and families. Although there is a technical deadline in late June, many institutions have priority deadlines (often in early February). Going past the priority deadline can compromise access to aid sources and result in a smaller amount of overall aid. While students and parents should be sure to file as early as possible, it is particularly important to complete the FAFSA before any important school deadlines. Check with your respective (or prospective) school for such deadlines.

However, it is important to be honest in your financial aid filings. This brings us to our second financial aid story of the day.

The Harvard Crimson reports that “Federal prosecutors are charging the parents of a 2013 Harvard graduate for allegedly inaccurately reporting financial information to the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, according to a criminal complaint filed June 27 in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.” They have been charged with three counts of wire fraud.

It turns out that the family was receiving $50,000 of student aid each year. However, when the school went to reconcile their data with federal sources and their financial documenting provider (IDOC), it was discovered that the information was inaccurate. According to the prosecuting attorney, the parents allegedly “caused false and fraudulent financial information to be submitted to FAFSA and IDOC, by, among other things, underreporting their wages, income, sources of income, and adjusted gross income reported on their federal income tax returns.”

So, to sum up today’s financial aid news articles: it is important not only to file the FAFSA, but to file it as early as possible, and as honestly as possible.