FAFSA Verification – What It Is, How to Handle It, and Why Parents Shouldn’t Freak Out
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
February 1, 2018
When applying for financial aid, students and their parents submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. In any given year, some filings are selected for FAFSA verification.
Verification is the process of confirming the information the student or the parents provided on the FAFSA, similar to an audit on your federal taxes. The FAFSA is managed by the US Department of Education, and sometimes they will be the ones who select some FAFSAs (sometimes randomly) each year to be verified. Sometimes, the colleges themselves will select a FAFSA to be verified.
A student will not receive any financial aid until the verification process has been completed. The financial aid office will be the ones contacting the student, and they will receive all the necessary supporting documents.
What documents will you need to provide?
It depends on your personal situation, but in general, possible documents you will need include:
- Verification worksheets provided by your college
- Income tax transcript – a line-by-line accounting of a tax return including applicable schedules provided by the IRS
Federal tax return – the original documents filed like 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
- Other specific documents to confirm numbers on the FAFSA like proof of a sibling’s college registration or W-2s or 1099 forms
- Signed copy of any amended tax return 1040X if applicable
Tips to keep your sanity
Pay attention and respond quickly. Students need to be vigilant in checking their emails and reviewing their Student Aid Report (SAR). If a verification request is made, students can’t simply say they didn’t see the email. Colleges will not accept those kinds of excuses. Also, if a student delays in responding, the financial aid may be given to someone else.
Income tax transcripts can be obtained from the IRS by either immediate download from the website or sent to you by mail or fax. We recommend visiting the www.IRS.gov website and click “Get a Tax Transcript” and downloading the transcript there for fastest turnaround.
If a student or parent decides not to provide the requested documentation, be aware the financial aid offer will be withdrawn.
If a student or a parent did not file a federal tax return, you may be asked to verify that a tax filing was not required. The financial aid office will need a signed statement from the student or parent saying you were not required to file a federal tax return. Include in that statement a list of all income and employers during the period in question as well as any W-2 forms.
Remember, a student or a parent hasn’t done anything wrong if they are selected for FAFSA verification. Some verifications are chosen at random. Others are just trying to clear up any inconsistencies. Some small colleges even verify 100% of financial aid applicants. Verification is intended to clear up the accuracy of the information submitted.
Don’t worry. Although 1 in 4 FAFSAs may be selected for verification, the Expected Family Contribution is rarely changed. If it does change, talk to the college’s financial aid office to find out about the next steps.