The financial aid process is often time-consuming and confusing, and sometimes looking for help online can seem like it only makes matters worse. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the first step to getting any kind of federal financial aid, and it’s not always simple to fill out. It requires not only your financial information in detail, but in many cases, it requires your parents’ financial information too—a fact that can be uncomfortable for parents and students alike, especially if parents either cannot or aren’t willing to pay for college.

Like it or not, however, your parents’ financial situation affects your ability to get financial aid for school. The federal government takes the position that if you want a college education, you and your parents or other family members should take the lion’s share of paying for it unless there is a compelling reason why you can’t. The FAFSA provides the Department of Education with a clear picture of what you can afford and how much your family can be expected to help.

One of the things the FAFSA requires on question 90 of the application is the “total current balance of cash, savings, and checking accounts” that your parents own. This doesn’t just mean the total in your bank accounts, but also any cash or cash assets on hand, regardless of whether they’re in a bank account, in a safe at home, or in a safe deposit box earmarked for your inheritance. You’ll want to make sure that all cash is reported, even that long-neglected savings account that is just collecting interest.

Why It is Important to be Accurate On Question 90 of the FAFSA

It’s important that you are accurate when marking your parents' total current balance of cash, savings, and checking accounts on the FAFSA. If you accidentally put down incorrect information, you could see your financial aid package diminished or even denied completely—in most cases, the federal government can match your offered numbers with tax returns and know if you’re correct.

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If you are purposely fudging the numbers or engaging in some shady actions in an effort to get more aid, you could find yourself in serious trouble with the law. College financial aid professionals are very good at recognizing false information that doesn’t add up—such as a parent who makes a $150,000 annual salary but has only $250 for a reported cash balance.

The penalty for knowingly falsifying information on your FAFSA is steep. The fine for doing so can be as high as $20,000 and comes with up to five years in prison. That penalty is in force even if you don’t actually receive student aid based on fraud and are only caught attempting to falsify the information.

Can You Change Your Information on Question 90 of the FAFSA

While you can change some information on your FAFSA, the financial data is expected to be correct at the time of filing and cannot be edited. If you find that you accidentally reported incorrect information, however, you can call the school’s financial aid office directly and let them know that you made a mistake and need to correct some information.

Filling out your FAFSA—including your parents’ information—doesn’t have to be complicated. Just be honest and complete. You’ll be glad you did.