Many people who apply for college financial aid are forced to go through an audit-like process in which they must prove that the information they provided is accurate.
Each year, nearly a third of students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, are selected for so-called verification, according to the National College Access Network.
“Families should expect to be chosen for verification at least once during their college career,” said Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors.
Fortunately, this week the Education Department announced it is simplifying the process.
Previously, applicants needed to confirm their income or that of their family with tax transcripts or another official form from the IRS.
Now, a signed tax return will do. For those who don’t file a tax return, they can just sign a statement explaining that.
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To avoid being selected for verification, applicants should use FAFSA’s IRS data retrieval tool, which automatically imports their tax information, said Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network.
“When filers use the tool, it is considered verified data so they will not be selected,” Cook said.
If you’re asked to verify your financial circumstances, don’t panic, said Lindsay Ahlman, a senior policy analyst at The Institute for College Access and Success.
“It can be discouraging, but being selected doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it just means you need to complete some additional steps,” she said.
Respond as quickly as possible, to make sure you don’t lose out on your aid.
“Follow all the steps required, and if you run into problems along the way reach out to your financial aid office to see if there are other options for fulfilling the requirements,” Ahlman said.