It can sometimes seem like applying for financial aid is one long struggle. Many families start collecting their documentation early, eagerly await the October 1 starting date to file the FAFSA, and anticipate receiving a financial aid award letter. This process can be thrown off kilter if the financial information is selected for verification.
Verification means that more information is required before a final decision can be rendered about financial aid. It does not mean that anything is wrong. While some applications are verified for a specific reason, others are often selected at random. In fact, some colleges routinely require verification from all of their potential students. It is estimated that about one-third of the FAFSAs will be selected for verification. You might be notified through the Student Aid Report (SAR), or from your college that additional information is required. That is why it is so important to review your SAR completely, and to pay attention to any notices you might receive from colleges through email or online portals.
What Kind of Information is Selected for Verification?
Verification requests can come in many forms. Some typical types of information that might be looked at include:
• Applicant Identity
• Adjusted Gross Income
• Federal Income Tax Paid
• Untaxed Portion of IRA Distributions
• Untaxed Portion of Pension Distributions
• IRA Deductions Claimed and Payments Received
• Tax-Exempt Interest Income
• Education Tax Credits
• Income Earned from Work
• Number of Household Members/Number of Household College Students
• High School Completion
• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits
• Child Support Paid
• Statement of Education Purpose
Keep in mind that some information cannot be changed. While you might be able to update the contact information on your FAFSA, most information cannot be updated, because it must be accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA form. For example, you must update anything that changes your dependency status. But you can only change other information, such as household size or number of college students, if you are selected for verification.
What Documentation is Needed for Verification?
In some cases, the college will simply ask you to complete a worksheet for verification purposes. Fill in all blanks, even if the answer is “None,” or “Not Applicable.” For other requests, acceptable documentation might include:
• Tax Information: If you used the Data Retrieval Tool to draw figures from your federal tax return, you may not have to verify that information. In certain cases, though, your school may require you to submit an IRS tax transcript or a signed copy of your income tax return as part of the verification process. Contact your school directly if you submitted an amended tax return that might not be reflected on your FAFSA.
• Household Info: You may be asked to submit a signed statement to verify how many people were living in your home at the time of FAFSA completion, or you may have to provide proof of enrollment if someone else in your house is also attending college at the same time as you.
• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: This may involve a signed statement from the recipient, or certification from the agency that issues your family’s SNAP benefits.
• Child Support: This could include a signed statement, copies of court orders, or copies of checks/receipts for child support payments.
• High School Status: You may be asked to provide a copy of your high school diploma or GED, or a copy of your final transcript if it shows your graduation date.
Additional copies of investment statements or other sources of income might be requested. The financial aid office will then review all of the information you have provided in order to make a final determination of your financial aid eligibility. If you do not agree with the ultimate outcome, contact the college directly for clarification.
Verification does come with deadlines, so it is important to respond as quickly as possible. Don’t ignore these requests, as failure to comply could result in loss of financial aid. If you cannot gather the information requested within the given timeframe, talk to the financial aid office at the college to find out if they can grant an extension.