An article in the Washington Post reported that college financial aid administrators are mystified by this year’s increase in FAFSA verification requests. Although there were some difficulties with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool earlier this year, it was once again available when families started to complete the FAFSA in support of next year’s financial aid decisions. Verification is when additional documentation is requested to verify statements that applicants made on the FAFSA.
Some colleges routinely verify all of their financial aid requests; for others, though, the FAFSA might be chosen at random, or there might be a question about some of the information provided. Previously about one-third of the FAFSAs were verified, but this year the number has skyrocketed. If you see an asterisk next to the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) on your Student Aid Report (SAR), your FAFSA has been selected for verification, and you will then be asked to provide documentation to support specific fields on the FAFSA.
The problem is especially acute for lower-income families whose Expected Family Contribution is zero, which should qualify them for substantial financial aid, but it has even affected those who use the Data Retrieval Tool. The Department of Education is working to rectify this situation quickly, but until then stay on your toes as to whether you need to provide more documentation. In the meantime, here are some things to keep in mind if your FAFSA is one of the multitudes selected for verification this year:
• Don’t be discouraged: It may feel like there are lots of hoops to jump through to get into college, and this is just one more of them, but it is very important. You may be tired of providing information and filling out forms, but there is a very good reason to stick with it to the end.
• Check carefully as to what is needed: Documents requested may include a Verification Worksheet, IRS Tax Return Transcript or an IRS Verification of Non-Filing Letter, marriage certificate, Social Security card, Alien Registration card, and other information or documentation.
• Reply as soon as possible: Check all forms of communication with your prospective colleges to look for any updates on this process. There are still certain deadlines which have to be met to be eligible for federal and state financial aid, as well as programs which have a limited amount of funding available.
In my experience as a professional college financial aid advisor, I would say that verification is the number one thing that holds back prospective college students from getting the financial aid dollars they deserve.
You can learn more about financial aid procedures in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, which also contains information on completing the FAFSA, applying for financial aid, paying for college, and repaying student loans. Order it now and find out how to complete your financial aid application journey.