Last Updated Feb 8, 2010 8:48 PM EST
A worried father asked me this question last week when I was in Florida giving some presentations on student financial aid and other college topics. The father of five children had already completed the FAFSA for his oldest son.
But after listening to me talk about common FAFSA form errors, he concluded that he had committed a doozie.
Here was his problem: When completing the federal financial aid application, the Florida dad had included his retirement assets when calculating the net worth of his investments.
Question No. 90 tripped him up. Here is what that FAFSA question asks:
What is the net worth of your parents' current assets investments as of the day you submitted your FAFSA?
(One of the irritating aspects of the FAFSA is that it assumes that the teenager is filing out this complicated financial aid application and not the parent. Crazy, but true.)
You can see how the wording of Question No. 90 is misleading. Nowhere in the question does the online FAFSA instruct a parent to disregard retirement assets such as Individual Retirement Accounts, 401(k) plans and other accounts. Strange, but true.
The Florida father assumed that including the retirement assets is what made his Expected Family Contribution or EFC seem so high.
Luckily, it's easy to correct a FAFSA mistake. Just return to the FAFSA website and hit the Make Corrections to a Processed FAFSA.It will take three to five days for your corrected FAFSA to reach your child's colleges.
And while you're making the correction, check the rest of your college financial aid form. Chances are you'll find other potentially costly mistakes.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes a college blog for TheCollegeSolutionBlog. Follow me on Twitter.