Homelessness and the FAFSA

In recent years, questions about the circumstances surrounding homelessness have been added to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to give homeless students the help they need when considering college. Three questions about homelessness canned be summed up this way:

At any time on or after July 1 [in the year prior to the academic year covered by this FAFSA], did an official* determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

*This determination can be given by:

  • A high school or school district homeless liaison,
  • A director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or
  • A director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

If you answer yes to any one of the ‘homelessness’ questions, you’ll be considered an independent student and will not be required to provide your parents’ income information on your FAFSA. Later on, though, you may be asked by a financial aid administrator to provide a copy of the homeless youth determination. If you did not receive a determination provided by one of the officials listed above, you’ll be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA, but you may ask a financial aid administrator to consider making their own determination. The administrator will probably ask you for additional documentation before reaching a decision.

To clarify some of the terms used in the questions about homelessness, an unaccompanied student is one who is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. The term youth refers to someone who is 21 years of age or younger or is still enrolled in high school at the time they submit their FAFSA.  A student is considered homeless if he or she lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars, or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Students are also considered homeless if they are fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live. A self-supporting student is one who covers his/her own living expenses.

Often, homeless students ask about how to report their mailing address on the FAFSA. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “You must provide a mailing address where you can reliably receive mail. Your mailing address can be the address of a relative or friend who has given you permission to use it, or it can be your college’s address. If you want to use your college’s address, you must contact the school for permission and instructions to ensure that your mail reaches you.” Don’t forget to update your FAFSA later when you find more permanent housing.

For more information and a list of additional resources for homeless students, read:

Questions and Answers: Federal Student Aid and Homeless Youth and

FAFSA Tips for Unaccompanied Youth

What’s a Special Circumstance?

We all know life happens! From losing a job, to dissolving a marriage, to unexpectedly taking in an elderly parent or relative, life has a way of throwing a variety of situations at you. Sometimes these situations can have an impact on the financial aid you receive for college.

Whether you’re planning for college as a new freshman, or continuing your education as an upperclassman, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to qualify for federal and some state financial aid. You can access the new 2020-2021 FAFSA now at FAFSA.gov. The FAFSA measures your ability to qualify for grants, work-study and student loans. The FAFSA doesn’t, however indicate your job layoff last month or all the medical expenses your parent is paying for your younger brother.

These types of situations can be determined as special circumstances. Visit with the financial aid office at your college or career technology center to share any conditions you feel are not accurately reflected on your FAFSA. Your situation may be reviewed and if approved, could be deemed a special circumstance. Any revisions to your FAFSA data may also cause changes to your financial aid eligibility, offering a possible increase in your funding.

Examples of a special circumstance might be:
– A significant change in income after your FAFSA was originally filed.
– The death of a spouse, parent or other family member.
– A job change or layoff.
– Unexpected medical expenses.
– A marriage, divorce or separation after the FAFSA was submitted.
– An incarcerated parent or spouse.

If you fall into one of these categories, or experience something completely different, contact your institution’s financial aid office for further instruction.

Dependency Status on the FAFSA

It’s FAFSA season and you may be wondering what type of information you’ll have to include on your form. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, asks multiple questions including your name, age, school(s) of interest, and dependency status, as well as parent and student income and asset information. Since you’ll be in college next year, won’t you be considered an independent student? Do you even need to provide your parent’s information since you’ll be an adult when you start college? The answers to these questions are not simple ones, they require more explanation.

On the FAFSA, many factors determine whether a student is considered independent or dependent. The application asks students various questions to determine their dependency status. Dependent students must provide their parents’ information, while independent students do not. A series of yes or no questions asked on the FAFSA will help students determine their classification. If a student answers yes to any of the questions, s/he does not have to provide parental information. However, if every question in this section is answered no, parental information will be required. This can be confusing, so here’s a simple equation to help you remember:

  • All No’s = Dependent Student (Provide parent information)
  • One Yes = Independent Student (Don’t have to provide parent information)

What do these questions entail? They ask for a variety of information, including college grade level, age, military status, if you support dependents, if you’re at risk of being homeless, and many more. For additional information about the FAFSA, check out the tools available at StartWithFAFSA.org and UCanGo2.org, which offer a Dependency Status Questionnaire and a variety of articles, publications and videos to assist you with the FAFSA.

If you have questions regarding your dependency status or any items on the FAFSA, feel free to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or your financial aid office

New Information about the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For a few years, people submitting their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have had a valuable time-saving resource at their fingertips. It’s called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). By using the DRT that’s available in the electronic FAFSA, students can request an automatic transfer of the data from their tax returns. This means less people will have to supply proof of income to their financial aid offices, because the information is transmitted straight from the IRS. When using the DRT, FAFSA filers will need their tax return information from two years prior to the academic year for which they’ll need federal financial aid. For example, the 2020-21 FAFSA will require income and tax information from 2018.

Here’s some great news: Up until now, students who used the MyStudentAid App to file their FAFSA haven’t been able to use a smart phone or tablet to use the IRS DRT. But that’s changing! Beginning October 1, 2019, students and parents will be able to request their tax return information while using the MyStudentAid App.

To see if you’re eligible to use the IRS DRT, check out this helpful publication from Federal Student Aid. Be sure to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after October1; some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Go to FAFSA.gov to set up your FSA ID and begin your application.

FAFSA Now Available!

It’s October 1! That means the 2020-2021 FAFSA is available! All students planning to start college in the fall of 2020 can now submit their application for federal and state financial assistance. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, allows colleges to determine your eligibility to receive financial aid. Financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans, can help you pay for college expenses. To start your FAFSA, here are a few tips that will help you successfully complete the form:

  • Create Your FSA ID – If you haven’t already done so, you and your parent will need to create an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID). This username and password allow you to electronically sign the FAFSA. It will also give you access to other financial aid documents and websites. To create your FSA ID, go to fsaid.ed.gov.
  • Gather Your Documents – For the 2020-2021 FAFSA, students will need their parents’ tax return, W-2 and other financial information for the 2018 tax year. If the student filed a tax return in 2018, they will need the same information. Students should also gather their Social Security card and driver’s license, if applicable.
  • Use Your Official Name – When creating your FSA ID and completing the FAFSA, you’ll need to enter your name exactly as it’s shown on your Social Security card. No nicknames are allowed on the FAFSA. If your name has special characters include those as well.
  • Pick Your Venue – There are two electronic options for submitting your FAFSA. You can use the website format, FAFSA.gov, or you can use the mobile app, myStudentAid. These are the only two official means for submitting your application. Remember the first “F” in FAFSA stands for Free, so you should never pay for completing your FAFSA. Using one of these two methods will ensure that you aren’t charge for a free application.
  • Watch Your Inbox – Once you submit your FAFSA, you’ll begin to receive information about your application status and updates from your future school’s financial aid office. Be on the look out for these updates and follow-up with your financial aid office if they need additional documentation.

Utilizing these five tips can save time and make your FAFSA completion much easier. Don’t forget, you need to complete a FAFSA each year you need funding for college.

For more information about the FASFA, check out www.ucango2.org