If your financial aid package for the upcoming school year seems off, you may want to have it checked. An error on the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, made some applicants appear far better off financially than they actually are.
The error on the online form causes some low-income filers appear to be millionaires, which can have a dramatic impact on what, if any, federal financial aid they can receive.
Jeff Baker, policy liaison at the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid told student-aid administrators at the Chronicle of Higher Education that the error has already impacted thousands of borrowers, and is likely to impact even more.
“It’s a serious problem,” Baker said at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ annual meeting. “We have to fix it.”
All of the troubles can be blamed on a decimal point. On the 2014-2015 FASA, several income and asset fields were expanded to accommodate higher incomes. These changes caused some filers to miss the .00 outside the field where income is entered, and they entered both dollars and cents of their income in the blank provided. When this happened, an income of $23,674.34, for example, was converted to $2,367,434.
Unless caught or corrected on the individual forms, the filers whose incomes were incorrectly converted can lose out on need-based student aid such as Pell Grants. Other students may be awarded financial aid that they were only qualified for through the form error. When the error is corrected, they will lose that aid.
At the beginning of July, 165,000 individuals had already been identified as making the mistake on their forms.
It is estimated that most colleges have a least one student affected by the FAFSA error. Some schools may have hundreds.
In some cases, students with errors on their form have already received their financial aid packages. In those cases, the colleges will have to reprocess those individual FAFSAs and notify students of any revisions to their awards. Schools that offer institutional aid will also have to reallocate their money.
A statement from the Education Department said some schools have already identified the affected students and are already working to correct the issue by helping them find the best student loan refinance options. The department also warned that not all necessary corrections had been made at this time.
Free Tuition for Starbucks Employees Through New Program
What Are We Going to Do About Student Debt?
Student Loans and Scholarship Options for Last-Minute Financial Aid