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What to Do if You’re Selected for FAFSA Verification

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What to Do if You’re Selected for FAFSA Verification There it is in your inbox or mailbox. A FAFSA verification request from your college’s financial aid office. You ask yourself, Did my parents give me wrong information? Does the financial aid department think I’m lying? What the heck is missing? And the answers are maybe/maybe not, no, and keep reading.

The FAFSA verification request letter will tell you what you need to know: what information needs verifying, how to submit it, and by when. Shannon Vasconcelos, the Director of College Finance at College Coach, will tell you everything else you need to know about financial aid verification.

Basically what happens, she says, is the Department of Education flags some FAFSA applications – approximately one third – due to missing or inconsistent data, and your college (or potential future college) will contact you to verify that information. Part of it is random selection, but there’s also some super fancy algorithms and modeling going on behind the scenes that flags applications that are incomplete, estimated, or inconsistent, or “most likely” to have incorrect information.

What are some examples that might trigger a flag on your application?

“One example is if you reported that your Adjusted Gross Income was $50,000 and that your Taxes Paid were $50,000. No one is in a 100% tax bracket, so this would be flagged as an inconsistent data element,” says Vasconcelos.

Another example, she continues, might be “if you reported that you did not file a tax return, but the income you reported is above the IRS filing thresholds. Even reporting income so low that it is questionable if it could support a household of the size you reported.”

Reporting no money in the bank but accruing interest will likely raise a flag on your application, too. “Perhaps you simply made a mistake on the FAFSA, or perhaps you recently bought a house and the money that accrued that interest has now been spent, legitimately leaving zero dollars in the bank.”

So, were you one of the lucky 33% asked for additional FAFSA verification? Here are some tips from Vasconcelos.

1. Don’t go into panic mode

Freaking out? Don’t. Verification happens. And Vasconcelos says it’s part of the process. “It exists to help ensure that financial aid goes to the students that truly need it, and not to those that don’t,” she continues. “Your selection doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It just means that the financial aid office just needs some more information before they can process your financial aid.”

2. Don’t ignore verification requests

Or you may miss out on the grants and loans that will help you pay for college. “There is often a logical explanation for conflicting data, but it simply requires a little extra information to clear up,” Vasconcelos says.

And she emphasizes that it’s your job to check your college’s student information system, your email, and snail mail. “Not realizing you had additional requirements to complete will not be an acceptable excuse to an aid office.”

3. Do go into “asap” mode

Time is of the essence. Make note of the deadlines and get to work resubmitting the missing information or tracking down the documentation. Your college cannot offer you a student financial aid package – including federal student aid, state grants, and institutional aid – until all requested documents and verification details are submitted. And since some student financial aid is first come, first served, delays could cost you aid awards -- or even your status.

“You don’t want to show up on the first day of school and find that you cannot register for classes or get into your dorm because your financial aid has not been processed,” says the FAFSA expert. “The sooner you submit the required documents, the sooner you can stop worrying and get your financial aid!”

4. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool next year

Want to potentially avoid the time and stress that comes with a FAFSA verification request? There are no guarantees, but some things are in your control, especially when it comes to inconsistent or incomplete income data.

“The number one step a student can take to avoid being selected for verification is to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) option when completing their FAFSA.” This convenient tool automatically pulls your and, if applicable, your parents’ income data directly from your filed tax returns. “Because it comes straight from the IRS, the federal government knows that the information is accurate. It is very unlikely that your application will be selected for verification because there is not much information left for the college to verify.”

Visit GetIntoCollege.com for more information about FAFSA, financial aid, and applying to college.

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