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Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential first step when you’re planning for college. It’s what the federal government, colleges and states use to determine how much aid you’re eligible to receive.
To confirm eligibility for aid, the Department of Education will request FAFSA verification from about 1 in 5 applicants nationally. If you’re selected for FAFSA verification and you fail to complete the process — mainly, providing additional or updated documentation in a timely manner — you could be ineligible for aid.
That said, if FAFSA verification is requested in your case, there’s no need to panic — you can get through it and receive the financial aid you need. Here’s what you should know:
Why you might be selected for FAFSA verification
It’s easy to feel scared or overwhelmed when you receive a notification that you’ve been selected for FAFSA verification. But being selected for verification doesn’t mean you’re in trouble or that you did something wrong.
In recent years, lower-income students have been three times more likely to be targeted for FAFSA verification — and Pell Grant recipients are even more likely to be selected for verification, according to Cappex.
Overall, 22% of FAFSAs filed for the 2018-2019 academic year were selected for verification, according to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN).
|Why you could be selected for FAFSA verification|
|● Your initial FAFSA was incomplete or inaccurate
● Your FAFSA determined that you’re eligible for subsidized federal aid
● Your application is otherwise targeted by the Department of Education’s model for verification
● You also may be selected randomly for verification
● Your school performs FAFSA verification en masse
If you’re flagged for FAFSA verification, you’ll be asked to provide documentation that proves the information you submitted is accurate. The information you are asked to verify may include any number of items, including household size, adjusted gross income and taxes paid.
If you need to verify your information, a notice will appear on your Student Aid Report, which summarizes your FAFSA submission. Additionally, the college you plan to attend will likely send a letter in the mail notifying you of the verification process.
What to do if you’re selected for FAFSA verification
Because FAFSA verification can occur randomly or because of a circumstance out of your control, don’t take it as a reprimand, and don’t panic.
It’s important to take the verification process seriously, or you might not end up getting financial aid at all. Don’t leave your response to a FAFSA verification request for another day; this is something that must be done immediately.
Here are five steps you should take if you receive a verification notice:
1. Gather your documentation
There are five areas the government typically flags for verification. To prove the information you provided on your FAFSA is accurate, you’ll be asked to submit documentation or signed statements for each point.
- Household size: In most cases, you can submit a signed statement listing your family size and number of dependents.
- Number of family members in college: If you have family members who are also in college, contact the registrar for a signed statement affirming that each member is a current student.
- Adjusted gross income (AGI): Your tax return should show your AGI, or you can use a W-2 form from your parents’ employers.
- Taxes paid: You can submit your parents’ tax return from the previous tax year.
- Untaxed income and benefits: If you receive other forms of income, such as Social Security benefits, child support or the earned income tax credit, ask the agency that issues those benefits for official documentation or a signed statement.
2. Fill out the necessary forms
Your school will send you FAFSA verification worksheets to complete as part of the process. You need to complete each worksheet and submit it along with any necessary documentation.
Your assigned worksheet will be specific to your dependency status. Double-check each worksheet to ensure you completed it accurately and completely.
3. Correct any mistakes
Sometimes, innocent mistakes happen. You might find out during the verification process that you made an error, such as writing down the wrong number for a particular data point. If that’s the case, you’ll need to fix that mistake before you submit your worksheets and documentation.
The quickest and easiest way to fix your FAFSA is to do so online at FAFSA.gov. However, it’s a good idea to inform your financial aid office of the error as well. The representative can advise you on what else you might have to do.
It should be noted that your chances of submitting incorrect tax information in the first place may be minimized by making use of the IRS data retrieval tool. This tool provides a quick way to transfer accurate tax information on your original FAFSA form.
4. Submit your documents on time
When you receive the FAFSA verification notice, the letter will state when you need to submit your documentation and worksheets. Again, time is of the essence here. It’s essential that you meet the deadline. If you’re late, you risk losing out on your federal financial aid eligibility. So procrastination is simply not an option when it comes to FAFSA verification.
5. Contact your financial aid office
In many cases, going through the verification process will not affect how much aid you receive. However, there’s a chance your financial aid package could change. If there was a problem with your FAFSA, you could end up receiving less financial aid than you expected.
If that happens, contact your school’s financial aid office to talk about your options and what alternatives are available to you. You should know in as soon as five to 10 business days whether your FAFSA verification has affected your financial aid.
What you can do if your financial aid package changes
Nearly 30% of students see their federal Pell Grant awards increase or decrease following the FAFSA verification process, according to NCAN.
If you complete the FAFSA verification process and find out you’re going to receive less aid than you expected, you may be left scrambling to come up with the money you need to go to school.
However, there are other options available to help you fill the gap. If you need help paying for school, apply for additional scholarships and grants and consider taking on a summer or part-time job.
If all else fails, borrowing private student loans could help you complete your education.
Andrew Pentis and Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.