FAFSA web form mistake may have affected student financial aid eligibility

DENVER - College students who should have qualified for a federal Pell Grant or other aid may have been disqualified because of a mistake in filling out a form online. Others may find they are ineligible for aid they were originally awarded.

Friday, the Department of Education announced that the mistakes stem from an online application form for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form asks the applicant to round their income earned from work up to the nearest dollar, but the applicants may not have done so.

"We have determined that in most of these cases, the applicant or parent entered cents in the income fields when using FAFSA on the Web instead of rounding to the nearest dollar amount as instructed by the FAFSA on the Web help text and shown on the form," the Department of Education's announcement said.

For example, an applicant input an income of $5,000.19, the system would have used $500,019 in the calculation of the prospective student's eligibility for aid.

"The error led to students being declared eligible for aid when they are not - and ineligible when they are," the department said.

The department believes that "fewer than 200,000 applicants are affected," with 63 percent of schools having fewer than 10 applicants each.

Earlier this month, the FAFSA web form was changed in an attempt to prevent future errors. The changes include justifying the text entries on the right side of the field, so they appear beside the ".00" already included. Secondly, the site is updated to automatically drop any digits following a decimal point mistakenly input by an applicant.

Additionally, on Monday, the system generated new reports for applicants who may have been affected by the confusion and sent the reports to the institutions on the applicant's list. The schools are required to review and correct the adjusted gross income and income earned from work data on the applications and that may necessitate phone calls or emails with parents and applicants.

The review is supposed to be completed before the subsidized Title IV aid is disbursed for the year, but any aid mistakenly disbursed will need to be returned.

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