THE BLOG
12/27/2014 06:52 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2015

Don't Let the FAFSA Ruin Your Holiday Cheer: 10 Financial Aid Myths Debunked

The holiday season is upon us. Families are making resolutions, laying out plans for 2015 and spending some much needed quality time away from work or school together. Beyond merrymaking, this lull before the New Year is the perfect time for families to bank some smart savings in the college search process. Open season for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) filing starts on January 1st.The US Department of Education provides more than $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds each year, but some programs make awards on a first-come first-serve basis. Financial planning for college is often a family activity, so college-bound students and their parents should use their time together to get a jumpstart on the process.

According to a recent analysis by Mark Kantrowitz, Senior Vice President at Edvisors Network and author of "Filing the FAFSA," roughly 2 million students who could have qualified for need-based Federal Pell Grants in the 2011-12 academic year never filed. This number doesn't include the many middle-class families that might qualify for scholarships or school-based financial aid for which FAFSA completion is a prerequisite. Whatever your economic situation, you should be wary of the following FAFSA myths - and avoid leaving money on the table.

1. My family makes too much money to qualify for financial aid...
Many middle and even upper-middle income families qualify for financial aid. In addition to your family's income, there are a number of different factors that go into the process of determining eligibility, including assets and number of household members currently attending college. Even if you don't qualify for federal dollars, many colleges and scholarship programs use the FAFSA to award financial aid. Fill out the form to ensure you don't miss out!

2. The FAFSA deadline isn't until June, so I have plenty of time to fill out my form...
While it's true that the final FAFSA deadline isn't until June 30th, many programs award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. To ensure you get all of the aid for which you are eligible, try to fill out your forms as close to the January 1st start date as possible.

3. I'm older than the typical college freshman and probably won't qualify...
Not to worry! Your age is not taken in consideration at all during the financial aid process.

4. I'm paying for college on my own, so I don't need to include my parents information...
If you are under 24, you should do serious research before deciding to move ahead without your parents' information. Depending on the circumstances, even self-supporting students who file their own taxes can be deemed dependents for federal financial aid purposes. If you are deemed a dependent then your family's income and assets will be factored into your financial aid profile, significantly impacting the amount of aid dollars available to you. Even if you plan on paying for college on your own, your family's financial situation may be a factor in your financial aid eligibility. Find out your dependency status here: U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Office.

5. My parents haven't filed their taxes yet, and I can't file until they do...
Nope, not true. One of the biggest mistakes people make is putting FAFSA on hold until they've filed their federal tax returns. In fact, you can use an estimated number to file now and update your materials once your returns are completed. Just make sure to check the "will file" box and the Department of Education will remind you in April to update your form.

6. I don't have great grades, so I shouldn't even bother trying to qualify...
You don't need to be class valedictorian or a straight-A student to qualify for federal student aid. In fact, the overwhelming majority of federal and state packages are based on need alone and, in most cases, you only need to maintain a "satisfactory" GPA to continue receiving aid dollars.

7. My parents have been putting money into my college fund since the day I was born--so my savings disqualify me from getting financial aid...
Saving for college is always a good idea. Your savings (or parents' savings) are just one of many factors considered in the FAFSA formula (and by school financial aid officers).

8. I submitted FAFSA last year, so I don't need to file again...
Unfortunately, FAFSA doesn't just automatically renew. To remain eligible for federal student aid (and many other kinds of aid), you need to file for every year you are attending school. However, if you submitted last year, you do have the option of completing a Renewal FAFSA, in which most of the questions are pre-filled with your prior information.

9.The form is too difficult to fill out, and I can't afford to pay a fee...
The FAFSA is actually easy to fill out. The instructions on www.fafsa.gov are detailed and you're walked through each question. Also, remember the first word in the FAFSA acronym is "free." You should not pay anyone to fill out the FAFSA for you, and the government provides real-time private online chat to answer any and all questions. FAFSA even has a Twitter account!

10. The Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) calculated on FAFSA is the final word on what I'll pay for college...
Your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college. In fact, the EFC is only an index number used by schools to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Every school has its own financial aid formula, so you should use CollegeAbacus.org or the net price calculators available on individual college sites to find out your individualized, estimated cost of attendance at each school you are considering.

Submitting the FAFSA can give you access to a broad range of federal, state and institutional aid. This includes Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, Federal Work Study, merit-based state grants and college scholarships. This is money that can make a difference in your school choice and payment options. So don't let confusion about FAFSA prevent you from getting the money you need to further your education - or dampen your holiday cheer!

PHOTO GALLERY
States With Highest Average Student Debt - TICAS - Class Of 2012