Financial aid director offers FAFSA tips, line-by-line instructions

February 5 2007

Just like filling out state and federal income tax forms, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be a daunting task, but help is as close as your computer thanks to Indiana State University's Office of Student Financial Aid, which offers unique easy-to-read instructions online.

The deadline for submitting a completed FAFSA isn't until March, but Thomas Ratliff, ISU's director of student financial services, suggests completing it as early as possible. He says the task can be completed in five (relatively) simple steps.

Step One - Use Ratliff's line-by-line instructions.

The FAFSA can be an 'awkward creature,' Ratliff said. 'What I tried to do is make line-by-line instructions, in simple terms, to be a resource to students and parents 24 hours a day, seven days a week,' he said.

By filling out the form himself, Ratliff was able to create simple instructions for each of the dozens of questions on the form. Those instructions are online at FAFSA instructions.

Step Two - Meet the deadlines, no matter what!

For Indiana residents, the government's strict deadline for the FAFSA is March 10, but Ratliff recommends turning the form in by March 1, ISU's priority deadline.

'Timing is very important,' he said.

'Many people don't have their taxes done by March, so it's important that they use their estimated tax information to meet the deadline,' Ratliff said, 'Then there is a correction deadline on June 10.'

He reminded parents and students to remember the correction deadline, as well, though, because the government does not advertise it as strongly.

Step Three - Don't make the same mistakes others have made.

Through his time with the Office of Financial Aid, Ratliff has seen many FAFSA mistakes. His best advice is to read the questions carefully.

One common mistake is confusing parents' and students' social security numbers or incomes.

"It's very important to keep student information separate from parent information," he said.

Often parents help students with the form and mistakenly put their social security numbers on the form instead of the student's. Ratliff said it is "critical" to make sure the social security numbers are accurate.

Many security checks go into the form to make sure students are who they say they are, and a discrepancy in social security numbers could cause big problems for those applying for federal aid.

Students also mistakenly insert their parents' income instead of their own. Ratliff said this could drastically change the amount of aid the students qualify for.

Often, students answer that they have finished their bachelor's degree when they mean they are working to finish their bachelor's degree. This too can significantly change the aid available for students.

Step Four - Sign the form, either electronically or manually, but be sure to sign it!

Ratliff said there are two ways for applicants to sign the FAFSA on the Web: with a personal identification number (PIN) or manually.

Ratliff said the online PIN is the easiest and quickest way. Once a PIN is assigned, it can be kept as long as the aid is needed, as long as it is used every 18 months.

But don't forget the PIN.

"I often tell parents to write their PIN number on a post-it note and stick it to the back of their calendar," Ratliff said. "Then, when the new year comes, they'll remember their PIN number and that it's time to apply for the FAFSA.�

The second way to sign the form is by printing out a signature page, signing it, and mailing it in. This way can be troublesome though, because the government will only hold onto the form without a signature for 14 days. If something may happen with the mail and the signature is not processed within those 14 days, the FAFSA will be discarded.

Ratliff warned students and parents not to sign the wrong line though, since both signatures may be needed if the student is still dependent on his or her parents.

Step Five - Utilize the FAFSA help ISU offers.

The Office of Financial Aid will be offering help to those applying for the FAFSA between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Feb. 14. An information table will be set up in ISU's Hulman Memorial Student Union. Financial aid counselors will answer questions concerning the application process.

There will also be a FAFSA+ Resource Fair from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Feb. 28, also in Hulman Memorial Student Union. Representatives from many ISU organizations will be in attendance to help students discover the resources that are available to them campus wide.

Contact: Thomas Ratliff, director, Office of Student Financial Aid, Indiana State University, (812) 237-2215 or tratliff1@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Megan Anderson, media relations intern, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3773 or manderson13@mymail.indstate.edu

Bookmark and Share

Story Highlights

Just like filling out state and federal income tax forms, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be a daunting task, but help is as close as your computer thanks to Indiana State University's Office of Student Financial Aid, which offers unique easy-to-read instructions online at FAFSA instructions.

Bookmark and Share