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What to Do If You’re Selected for FAFSA Verification

Oct. 18, 2016
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What to Do If You're Selected for FAFSA Verification
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On March 30, 2017, the Department of Education released a statement advising students and families to expect the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to be unavailable until the next FAFSA season, which begins on Oct. 1, 2017. With the tool offline, the National College Access Network “anticipates increased rates of verification.” This article is updated with information about how to complete FAFSA verification given the IRS Data Retrieval Tool outage.  

Every year, the Department of Education picks a portion of FAFSA applicants to go through what’s called verification. If you’re selected, you need to be able to show that your application is an accurate snapshot of your finances. That way, your estimated family contribution, or EFC, and any federal financial aid you get will best match your circumstances.

In the 2014-15 application period, about one in four FAFSA filers were selected for verification. The verification process may happen at any time, before or after you’ve chosen a school. You were probably chosen at random, like the vast majority of those selected, or your school may have asked to have your information verified. It’s not something to be alarmed by, but you should take it seriously.

Here’s what to do if you’re selected for FAFSA verification.

1. Gather your documents.

There are five main areas from your FAFSA that you might be asked to verify. Here’s what you need to satisfy each category:

  • Tax information. If you used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to submit your taxes, you probably won’t be required to verify any of your tax information. If for some reason you can’t use the tool, such as your parents are married but filed separately or they filed an amended return, you’ll need to submit a copy of your prior year tax return transcript.

If the data retrieval tool’s outage meant you were unable to use it to complete the 2017-18 FAFSA and you’re selected for verification, you’ll need to submit a signed paper copy of you or your family’s 2015 tax return. If you don’t have that, you’ll need to request a copy of the tax transcript from the IRS. You can do so online if you have all of the following:

      • Your Social Security number, date of birth, filing status and mailing address
      • Access to your email account
      • A mobile phone with your name on the account
      • A credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit or a car loan

If you appear on someone else’s return — such as a parent or guardian’s — you’ll his or her Social Security number and other information. 

If you don’t have access to the above, you’ll need to go online and request that a tax transcript be sent by mail, which takes five to 10 days, according to the IRS. If you need help completing the verification process, reach out to your college’s financial aid office or your high school counselor. You can also contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via phone, email or live chat.

  • The number of people in your house and the number in college. Usually, this only requires a signed statement, but you may have to provide proof of enrollment if someone else in the house will also be attending college.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Most likely, you’ll be able to submit a signed statement, but you may also be required to obtain documentation from the agency that issues your family’s SNAP benefits.
  • Child support. You’ll need to provide a signed statement that includes the amount of child support paid out as well as details about who pays, who is paid and the name of the child the payments are for. You may also have to provide copies of checks or receipts for those payments.
  • High school completion status. This can be a copy of your diploma or GED, or a copy of your final transcript as long as it shows your graduation date.

2. Fill out your FAFSA verification worksheets.

Your school will provide you with verification worksheets to accompany your requested documents. In some cases, filling out and returning a worksheet will be all that’s required.

On your worksheets, be sure to complete each question in full. If a question doesn’t apply to you, answer it with “N/A” or use the number zero, where appropriate. Triple check that everything is correct and complete before sending it in, because mistakes will draw out the process and cost you valuable college decision-making time.

3. Send in your verification materials before your deadline.

Verification probably won’t affect your financial aid, as long as you meet your college’s deadline. If you miss it, though, your school can’t offer you any federal financial aid. Any changes to your EFC are rare and would occur after you submit everything and only if your verification materials show a discrepancy from your original FAFSA.

If your school gives out any need-based institutional aid, such as campus-based scholarships or grants, you should consider yourself to be on a much shorter timetable. That kind of aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so waiting to send in your verification materials until the last minute might mean losing out on such aid and needing more in student loans to close the gap.

4. Follow up on changes to your financial aid package.

The majority of FAFSA filers who were selected for verification in the 2014-15 application year either had no corrections or saw no change to their EFC, according to the Federal Student Aid office. If you do see a change, though, here’s what will happen:

If your EFC increases: If you’ve already received financial aid, you might have been awarded more than you now qualify for. That means future federal loan offers may be smaller to compensate. If you lose eligibility for any grants or a Perkins loan based on your new EFC, you’ll have to repay that aid immediately.

If your EFC decreases: Your school is required to give you any additional federal aid you are eligible for. If your new EFC makes you eligible for more aid through a direct subsidized loan or a federal Pell Grant, for example, you’ll be able to add those to your financial aid package. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more need-based institutional aid, especially if you waited until later in the process to send in your documents.

In either case, talk to your college’s financial aid office about your options. They’ll help you figure out how to repay any excess loans or apply for additional scholarships and grants if you have a gap in aid.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @devondelfino.

Updated April 24, 2017