28 Nov How to Respond to a Request for Verification
In this strange year when COVID has made us all less certain of our financial capabilities, one positive action you can take is to make sure you maximize the amount of college financial aid your student is entitled to receive. The first step, which I hope that most of you have already taken, is to file a FAFSA for the 2021-22 academic year. You may also have to complete a CSS Profile or file a separate application, depending on the requirements of each of your student’s potential colleges.
The next step is to realize that this might not be the end of providing information to the financial aid offices. I advise all of my families to be vigilant for communications through email or portals which may ask them to answer specific questions. Another way more information may be requested is through a Request for Verification. You may see this noted on the Student Aid Report (SAR) you receive that sums up your FAFSA information. Here are some important things to know about verification:
- Verification does not mean you have done anything wrong: Don’t get upset that your information has been selected for verification. Sometimes it is just part of a random process, or sometimes very specific information is required. In fact, some colleges simply opt to verify all of their students’ FAFSAs. This step is simply to ensure that the data your colleges will rely on is absolutely accurate.
- It is crucial to respond quickly: In financial aid world, the difference of a few days can make a big difference in the amount of assistance you are able to receive. Some programs have limited funding, so any delay on your part may cause you to miss out on funds you might otherwise have received. Be very aware of the deadlines your colleges place on returning this information, and make sure you get your documentation in well ahead of time.
- Documents you might need: Requests for verification can often be centered on very specific points of information. For example, you might be requested to provide copies of W-2 forms regarding income, college registration to verify siblings attending college, or divorce papers to confirm custodial arrangements.
- If you did not file a tax return in 2019: You might be required to provide a letter of verification for your non-filing status, to prove that the IRS has no record of a 1040 form on file for you. This letter does not, however, prove conclusively whether you would have been required to file a return, only that they do not have one.
Completing the verification process is essential, as colleges cannot disburse financial aid funds until you have complied with the request. In most cases, you will not see any change to your financial aid award based on verification, but there might be an increase or decrease if a substantial discrepancy is uncovered between the FAFSA information and your supporting documentation.
Don’t get 2019 income verification confused with what you need to do to provide information on 2020 income updates to potential colleges. If your financial situation changed dramatically due to COVID, natural disaster, job loss, divorce, or other circumstances, contact the financial aid offices directly and ask how best to proceed. Be prepared to provide copies of any documentation in support of your claims. Be sure to do this as early as possible so they can take your new reality in effect when putting together your financial aid offer for 2021-2022.
I know that it can seem like the financial aid process is one unending parade of providing information, but trust me when I say that it can all be worth the effort when your student can afford to attend that one really great college. And don’t forget to keep up with scholarship opportunities as another way to find money to help pay for college. The CFAA Scholarship Program can help your student locate, organize and apply to 60 personalized scholarship opportunities. For the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.