All posts by UCanGo2

Do You Know Where Your Tax Returns Are?

That’s an important question if you’re submitting a FAFSA soon. The FAFSA will always require income information from two years prior to the year that you’ll be attending college. That means if you’re submitting the 2019-2020 FAFSA, you’ll need your 2017 tax return to complete the application. For those who earned income in 2017, but not enough to require filing a return, the income still needs to be reported on the FAFSA. Always keep your W2’s, especially for any year that you didn’t file a return.

If you’re a dependent student, your parents will also need to report their 2017 tax information.* Parents who filed a joint return in 2017 should have their W2’s handy, too, because the FAFSA will ask about the income of ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’.

Because you must complete the FAFSA each year you need student aid, it’s best to keep all relevant documentation together in a safe location, including your FSA ID (username and password). This will help you quickly and accurately finish all future FAFSAs.

*To determine whether you’re a Dependent or Independent student on the FAFSA, fill out the Dependency Questionnaire at UCanGo2.org.

Oklahoma’s Promise Day

Oklahoma’s Promise Day at the State Capitol is today, April 9! On Oklahoma’s Promise Day many students, faculty and supporters of Oklahoma’s Promise gather at the Capitol to show their appreciation for the Governor and legislature’s ongoing support of this program. The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship pays tuition at Oklahoma public colleges or universities and pays a portion of tuition at Oklahoma’s private colleges and for certain programs at Oklahoma public technology centers. Approximately 17,000 college students are currently benefiting from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, allowing more students to have a better chance of reaching their educational goals in our state.

If you’re an Oklahoma’s Promise student, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you’re in college. The information from the FAFSA will be used to determine whether or not your parent’s federal adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $100,000.  For any year that the income exceeds $100,000, you will not be eligible to receive the program benefits. Students must also remain in good academic standing based on the guidelines set by your institution. As the financial aid office reviews your FAFSA, they will determine your eligibility for financial aid such as  Oklahoma’s Promise,   grants, federal work-study and student loans. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year and contact the financial aid office if you have questions about your Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship.  Also, take some time to celebrate today by thanking your state legislators and encouraging them to keep the promise!

To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and its requirements, visit okpromise.org.

We are OK Promise round logo

Resources for Students Experiencing Homelessness & Other Special Circumstances

Going to college is a great step in the right direction for financial self-sufficiency, but it can be a tough path if you’re a homeless student or have a special circumstance. According to Federal Student Aid, a homeless student is someone who lacks “fixed, regular and adequate housing.” This may be anyone who is sleeping on a teacher’s couch or staying with a different friend each night. Your situation doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing your dreams, however. Applying for financial aid to help pay college expenses should be one of the first things you do. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the form that students and their families must complete annually to apply for federal and some state financial assistance for college. When completing the FAFSA, you will be asked a series of questions to determine if you will or will not have to provide parental information. Students who qualify as homeless will not have to report their parent’s data, but will need to contact their college’s financial aid office with documentation of their living arrangements. Talk with your high school counselor about your situation. Counselors can work with a campus homeless student liaison to provide the appropriate documentation.

Other students who are not homeless, but are also unable to provide parental information, will need to indicate they have a special circumstance on their FAFSA. This step will allow those students to skip the parent demographic portion of the application and proceed to the student section. A special circumstance may include escaping an abusive home environment, inability to contact parents, incarcerated parents, or parents who refuse to provide their information. When students indicate they have a special circumstance, they may only be eligible to receive unsubsidized student loans. An unsubsidized student loan is one that accrues interest while the student is in school. Once repayment begins, the student will repay the principal and the interest that has accumulated. In contrast, the interest on a subsidized student loan is paid by the government while the student is in school at least half-time. Students are encouraged to contact their campus financial aid office to explain their situation. The financial aid office will notify you if additional information is required.

As you move to the next level of education, there are resources available to help you succeed in college. Below are a few programs that may be helpful to you.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY): This program connects students with resources that will help them be successful throughout every year of school. Learn more about the program at NAEHCY.org.

National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE): NCHE offers an educational helpline for students experiencing homelessness. See how their helpline can guide you at NCHE.ed.gov.

Local Family and Youth Services offices: Family and Youth Services agencies provide living arrangement resources for homeless students. Find your local Family and Youth Service office at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb.

Campus resources: Many college campuses have resources to help students’ access year-round housing, food banks and academic support groups. Check with the Office of Resident Life on your campus to discover available resources.

Call 2-1-1: This hotline helps students locate assistance with shelters and food and other support groups.

Free Money First!

It’s award letter season! An award letter is an electronic or paper notification sent by a college, university or career tech after you’ve completed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and applied for financial assistance. These award letters indicate the amount of financial aid you may receive for your education for the 2019-2020 academic year. After reviewing your letter(s), you might find that the amount of aid awarded to you in the form of federal and/or state grants, known as free money, won’t cover the total cost of college. Before opting for federal student loans to help with expenses, start (or keep) researching available scholarships. A scholarship is another form of free money for college that doesn’t have to be paid back. Scholarships are often competitive, but by putting in the work, you may be able to shrink your remaining school balance and limit – or eliminate – the need for a student loan!

There are many ways to search for scholarships. First, check the school you’ll be attending. Many campuses have foundation offices that provide scholarships to eligible students. Look for these scholarships each year you plan to attend. Your college’s financial aid office can also help you identify different types of scholarships.

Other sources of scholarships include private businesses, employers, churches and community organizations (YMCA/YWCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Rotary and Elks clubs, etc.). These scholarships are often posted online and typically require an application specific to each award. Save time by accessing the free and trusted databases at OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2.org. Both sites compile thousands of scholarships available to students in Oklahoma and nationwide.

Only after you’ve exhausted all options for free money should you consider student loans. Remember, student loans must be repaid with interest, even if you don’t complete a degree, while free money from grants and scholarships does not have to be repaid.

For more information about scholarships, see our “Scholarship Success Guide.”

For more information about student loans, review “Borrow Smart from the Start.”

 

Finish the FAFSA this February!

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been available since October 1, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to apply! You can still apply to receive federal and state student aid in the form of grants, work-study and loans by submitting your FAFSA. Many students don’t apply at all and forgo FREE money for college! Below are some common reasons students miss out on financial aid.

Myth: If I’m not poor, very smart or super-talented, I won’t qualify for financial aid.

Reality: While it is true that the FAFSA is a need-based program, there are many factors other than income that go into the calculation. You never know if you qualify unless you apply. Plus, the FAFSA is used for more than just federal aid. Many universities and foundations require that you complete a FAFSA to be eligible for their scholarships.

 

Myth: I have several scholarships lined up, so I don’t need to submit a FAFSA.

Reality: College expenses include more than just tuition and fees – don’t forget about, books, room and board and transportation, among other potential costs. Submit your FAFSA to explore other funding possibilities in the event that your scholarships don’t cover all of your costs. You can always turn down aid that’s offered to you.

 

Myth: I’m going to pay my own way through college, so there’s no need to complete a FAFSA.

Reality: Paying your own way through college is a great plan, and completing the FAFSA could allow you to keep more of that money in your pocket. Applying for federal aid has become easier and can significantly reduce your financial burden. A few minutes of your time is definitely worth the potential for thousands of dollars in aid.

Complete your application for federal student aid today at FAFSA.gov!

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Submitting your FAFSA to find out your eligibility for federal and state aid is definitely a huge step in the financial aid process, but it’s only the first step. After your FAFSA has been processed and you’ve visited with the financial aid office at your school(s) of interest, watch for an Award Letter from one or more of those institutions. The letter may be sent electronically or via the US Postal service. It’s important that you read each Award Letter carefully, for it describes the types and amounts of financial aid the college or career tech can offer to help you pay for one year of higher education.

On your award letter you will see:

  • The total Cost of Attendance (COA) – what it costs to go to that school for one year
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – a number used by the school to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive (most likely not the amount you’ll be expected to pay)
  • Types and amounts of aid the school can offer you; this list is often called a financial aid ‘package’.
    • Grants – gift aid that comes from federal, state and tribal governments, usually based on financial need
    • Scholarships – can be based on need, merit or your interests; awarded by colleges, state agencies, companies, foundations, tribal and private organizations
    • Federal work-study – there may be an opportunity for you to work on or off campus to earn some of your financial aid
    • Federal student loans – money that you borrow to help you pay for college; loans must be repaid, with interest
    • Federal PLUS loan – an undergraduate loan your parent(s) may qualify to borrow to help you pay for college, subject to credit history requirements; your parent(s) are expected to repay the loan

Now, do a simple calculation. Subtract all of the financial aid shown on your Award Letter from your Cost of Attendance. This will determine your estimated Net Cost. The Net Cost is the out-of-pocket amount you’ll be expected to pay. You may hear this referred to as unmet need, or ‘the gap’. It’s possible that your Net Cost could be zero if your financial aid package covers your whole Cost of Attendance (a negative amount would count as a zero).

What options are available to help you pay the Net Cost?

Remember:

  • You don’t have to accept all of the aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. A monthly payment during college may be less expensive than a loan payment with added interest after you’ve completed your education.
  • Each award letter will give you a deadline to accept or decline some or all of the aid by a specified date. Always keep track of deadlines.
  • If you receive more than one Award Letter, be sure to determine what your Net Cost would be at each school. The schools will most likely have different packages to offer.

FAFSA Acronyms: Decoding Your FAFSA

Some of the language of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) may be unfamiliar to you. There are plenty of FAFSA acronyms you may not recognize. To help you decode FAFSA language, here are a few acronyms to familiarize yourself with as you go through the college financial aid process.

  • COA – Cost of Attendance (COA) is an estimate of the educational expenses for a particular college or university. The amount includes tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and miscellaneous expenses. Every school will have a different COA, but schools will list their COA on the award letters they send to students.
  • DRN – A Data Release Number (DRN) is a number that is assigned to your FAFSA. The DRN will help financial aid officers and customer service representatives locate your application and make changes, if necessary. You can find your DRN in the upper right hand corner of your Student Aid Report (SAR) or on your FAFSA confirmation page.
  • DRT – The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is a part of the Financial Information section of the FAFSA form. It allows you to transfer your tax return figures from IRS.gov onto your FAFSA application. Instead of manually entering tax data on the form, use the DRT to automatically enter the information. The tool connects to IRS.gov and locates the correct tax return. Once you click the “transfer now” button, the IRS will transfer your information into FAFSA.gov. Questions that have been answered by the DRT will populate with this response: “Transferred from the IRS.”
  • EFC – An Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a number that’s used by financial aid offices to determine your federal student aid eligibility. All the information you report on the FAFSA helps calculate your EFC. The EFC is not the amount you’ll have to pay for school or how much aid you’ll receive. It’s a number that helps financial aid offices calculate your financial aid package.
  • FSA ID – A Federal Student Aid Identification (FSA ID) is your username and password for filling out the FAFSA. It also serves as your electronic signature on the application. This ID allows you to return to the application at a later date, utilize the Data Retrieval Tool and access your financial aid history. The student and one parent will need an FSA ID.
  • SAR – A Student Aid Report (SAR) is a form that you’ll receive after you’ve submitted your FAFSA. It’s a summary of all the information you entered on the application and a general overview of your federal student aid eligibility. You may receive a paper or electronic version of your SAR. You can always access it by logging into FAFSA.gov with your FSA ID. It will also report your EFC.

What is Verification?

After completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will receive an email with a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is a document that recaps the data you provided on the FAFSA and offers some basic information about your eligibility for federal financial aid. On this SAR, you may read that you’ve been selected for verification. Typically an asterisk appears next to the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number near the upper right corner on the SAR, which indicates your information must be verified.

Verification is a process in which the school’s financial aid office must confirm the information provided on your FAFSA is accurate. About one-third of all students are selected for verification because questions may have been left blank, the data provided is inconsistent, or they’re just randomly chosen. If this happens, don’t worry. The financial aid office at the schools you’ve applied to will contact you and request additional documentation they’ll need to complete the verification process. Be sure to respond promptly and meet all deadlines set by financial aid personnel.

After you submit the requested materials to your school’s aid office, follow up with them to ensure it’s been received. Remember, you must complete the verification process in order to receive any federal or state student aid. If you have questions about the process, contact your school’s financial aid office.