The deadlines for college aid forms are approaching. Before filling out your loan applications, know these tips.

The deadlines for college aid forms are approaching. Before filling out your loan applications, know these tips:

1. Don’t miss the deadlines.

The two main forms that help determine what aid you qualify for are the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the College Scholarship Service Profile. The FAFSA is filled out by all students and is free. While there is no universal deadline for FASFA, most schools have a mid-February deadline (this is especially true for freshmen who are often required to file for aid before other students). The CSS profile is the financial aid application service of the College Board. Used mainly by private schools, the deadline to submit it is one week before a college’s priority aid deadline.

2. Go online.

Do the FAFSA and CSS forms online at fafsa.ed.gov and https://profileonline.collegeboard.com rather than on paper. The online form for FAFSA is a “smart form” and will skip unnecessary questions and check for errors as you proceed.

3. Be accurate.

The government has an audit system in place for individuals who file financial aid. Some people will be asked to verify their information, especially freshmen. If you’re off by a couple thousand dollars, you’ll probably be OK, but being off by a couple hundred thousand will probably be noticed, says Eileen O’Leary, associate vice president for financial aid at Stonehill College.

4. Estimate income information if your taxes aren’t done in order to meet the deadlines.

Don’t worry about filing the aid forms before your taxes are done, says O’Leary, because most people are good at estimating the figures needed.

5. Know your Social Security number.

The most important question on both forms is, “What is your (the student’s) Social Security number?” This is the only mistake that cannot be easily fixed. Once you file the FAFSA and CSS, you can go online to make other corrections.

6. Include all income.

For both forms, don’t forget to include under the “Untaxed Income” sections the income that you have that is not taxable on your tax return. Common errors are forgetting to include child support and worker compensation income.

7. Include parents' information.

When completing the FAFSA and CSS, be sure to include the information about the parents the student lives with, including a step-parent if there is one. Grandparent information should never be included on either form.

8. Explain financial situation.

If a custodial parent or step-parent has recently become unemployed or under-employed, write to the financial aid office at each college you are applying to. Explain your family’s financial situation and ask that they use an estimate of the 2010 income instead of the 2009 income that is reported on the FAFSA and CSS, since the 2010 income will be lower. Be sure to provide any additional information requested directly to the college.

9. Ask questions.

Talk to a school’s financial aid office if you have any additional questions. Colleges are glad to help answer financial aid questions even if the student isn’t committed, said O’Leary.

10. Go to a workshop

If you have FAFSA concerns you want addressed in person, many states offer workshops to get you started.

The Enterprise