Awkward FAFSA Decimal-Point Glitch Might Threaten Your Financial Aid
If you've been through the process of filling out your FAFSA, you know it can be a hellish, prying experience. But this year, the difference in the financial aid that you need came down to... a decimal point. Thousands of college students are dealing with a confusing Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, which may have, by the way, led to large-scale financial aid woes.
For the 2014-2015 FAFSA form, the government decided to expand some of the income and asset fields so bigger incomes could be entered (cool problem to have, huh?). The new field asks that you round your amount to the nearest dollar, putting ".00" just after the box. But some people are still including cents with the dollar amount, which the system is reading as two extra digits.
For example, if I entered $10,000.17, FAFSA would process my application as if I had entered $1,000,017. Suddenly, I have become a millionaire in FAFSA's eyes! Buuuut that doesn't really do me any good when I can't get an student aid because of it.
This value is entered in both individual earnings and expected-family income, which often determines how much aid a student will receive. If the university notices the mistake, it will reprocess the applications so it can give an accurate award for need-based aid or Pell Grants. Schools that offer institutional aid will also need to rejigger the amount of money that they offered to the student. An eagle-eyed aid administrator spotted the problem, which FAFSA officials are working to eradicate.
"It's a serious problem," Jeff Baker, policy liaison at the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, said at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ meeting this week, as reported by TIME. "We have to fix it."
Uh, yeah. No kidding. So far, the department has found 165,000 people who have made the mistake.
The FAFSA is a confusing process to begin with. There are companies that offer professional help in filing the nightmarish form, blog posts dedicated to common FAFSA mistakes, and high school guidance counselors trained to walk students through the maze.
In 2010, President Barack Obama called for a more streamlined FAFSA process, responding to figures that said 1.5 million low-income students did not receive financial aid after they failed to file. That year, the application took off dozens of questions for the average applicant.