Category Archives: Students and Parents

This Year, Try the DRT!

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for academic year 2022-2023 is now available. As you prepare to complete and submit the new FAFSA, don’t forget about a handy tool that’s offered to you–the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT).

At your request, the IRS DRT will automatically transfer your financial information from the required tax return to your FAFSA, saving you all the time you would normally spend entering the information yourself.

The FAFSA will ask you a few questions to determine your eligibility to use the DRT; if you are deemed eligible, you’ll be asked if you want to automatically transfer the information from the IRS to your FAFSA. Using the IRS DRT ensures the financial information on your FAFSA will be reported accurately, meaning a financial aid office will have one less reason to contact you for additional information.

To learn more about the IRS DRT, visit StudentAid.gov.

The FAFSA is Now Available!

A new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available each year on Oct. 1. The FAFSA for the 2022-2023 academic year is now available and high school seniors should be prepared to submit their application as soon as possible.

Your FAFSA will be used to determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid—money that will help you pay for college. Since some types of aid are first-come, first served, it’s important to submit your FAFSA as soon after Oct. 1 as you can.

Here are some things to remember:

  • The FAFSA is free; you should never have to pay to submit your FAFSA.
  • It’s a snapshot of your (and possibly your parents’) financial situation which is used to determine how much aid you may be eligible to receive.
  • When you submit a FAFSA, you’re not making any commitments to attend a certain school or to borrow student loans; you’re merely giving permission to the college(s) of your choice to discuss your financial aid options with you.
  • The FAFSA’s not a one-time thing. You’ll need to submit a new FAFSA for each year that you need help paying for college.
  • To submit your application online, you’ll need to set up a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID)—a username and password that will serve as your electronic signature. A parent may also need to create their own FSA ID. To create an FSA ID, go to StudentAid.gov and choose ‘Create Account.’
  • Once your FSA ID is established, you can use it to complete your FAFSA at StudentAid.gov anytime on or after Oct. 1.

There are two questions that will appear on the FAFSA again this year, but are no longer valid.

  • One question asks males: “Do you want us to register you with the Selective Service System?” Although federal law still requires males age 18-25 to be registered with Selective Service, it won’t affect your eligibility for aid if you haven’t registered yet and choose not to register on the FAFSA.
  • The other question is: “Have you been convicted of the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid?” While this question has never affected high school seniors, those who have received federal student aid in the past will no longer lose their eligibility due to a previous drug conviction.

Financial aid officers at the colleges you’ve listed on your FAFSA have been instructed to ignore any comments on these two questions so that you will qualify for student aid if otherwise eligible.

For more information about the FAFSA and federal eligibility requirements, be sure to check out other articles on this website, view the resources on UCanGo2.org and visit StudentAid.gov.

Completing the 2022-23 FAFSA

It’s almost time to start the 2022-23 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA! This application will help determine your financial aid eligibility if you plan to attend college in the fall of 2022. We’ve created a helpful list of steps to guide you through the application process.

  1. Gather Materials: Before getting started, you’ll need to make sure you have your Social Security card, current bank statements, and your 2020 W2 and tax return. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll also need your parent(s)’ financial information and 2020 tax returns.
  2. Create an FSA ID: The FSA ID, or Federal Student Aid ID, is a username and password that you’ll use to log in to your FAFSA. It will also serve as your electronic signature for completing the application. To create a FSA ID, visit fsaid.ed.gov. Remember to use our FSA ID Worksheet (also available in Spanish) to keep track of your username and password. If you’re a dependent student, a parent or guardian will also need to create a FSA ID.
  3. Fill It Out: Starting Oct. 1, you can access the new FAFSA at FAFSA.gov.
  4. Sign & Submit: Enter your FSA ID for your electronic signature. If you’re a dependent student, remember a parent will have to provide their electronic signature, as well. Don’t forget to click ‘submit’ at the bottom of the screen!
  5. Follow Up: Keep an eye out for a Student Aid Report (SAR) email, as well as information from the colleges you applied to. Sometimes campuses ask for additional paperwork, so watch for possible requests. If you have any questions after receiving your financial aid offer, follow up with the financial aid office at your campus.

For more details, check out the Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps guide or watch the Finish the FAFSA in Five videos on the StartWithFAFSA website, available in both English and Spanish.

Who’s My Parent on the FAFSA?

The answer to this question depends on your dependency status. If you’re considered an independent student, meaning you’ve answered YES to at least one dependency question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll report your own information (and your spouse’s, if married).

If you’re a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to provide information about your legal parent(s) on the application. A legal parent is your biological or adoptive parent, or your legal parent as determined by the state (for example, if the parent is listed on your birth certificate). If you have a stepparent currently married to your legal parent, you generally also must provide information about him or her.

If you need to report parental information, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If your legal parents are married to each other, include information for both of them on your FAFSA.
  • If your legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are not married to each other and live together, include information for both.
  • If your legal parent is widowed or was never married, include information only for your legal parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together:
    • Include the information about the parent you lived with most over the last 12 months. Also provide information for the stepparent, if your parent has remarried.
    • If you lived with each parent for an equal amount of time, include information for the parent who provided you the most financial support over the last 12 months, or during the most recent 12 months that you received support from your parent(s). Also provide information for your stepparent, if your parent has remarried
  • If your parents are divorced but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Unmarried and both legal parents living together’
    • Include information for both parents
  • If your parents are separated but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Married or remarried’ (not ‘Divorced or separated’)
    • Include information for both parents

One exception to note: The FAFSA will ask about your parents’ education level. Please answer the questions about the education levels of your birth or adoptive parents. A stepparent is not classified as a parent for those questions.

Be sure to check out UCanGo2’s Dependency Questionnaire for more information.

Gather Your Tax Information

When you submit your FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, on or after Oct. 1 this year, you’ll be required to report your income and tax information, along with that of your parents or spouse, if applicable. When you complete the new FAFSA for the 2022-2023 academic year, you’ll need your 2020 tax return and W-2s.

Instead of manually entering your tax information on the FAFSA, many applicants will choose to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). The IRS DRT automatically transfers the income information from your tax return directly into the FAFSA.

Even if you use the DRT, it’s still helpful to have your tax return and W-2s on hand when you complete your FAFSA. Here’s why:

  • If your tax return was submitted as ‘Married Filing Jointly’ and the two people who filed the joint return are reporting their income on a FAFSA, they’ll still need to report their individual incomes separately. The W-2s will indicate the specific income for each.
  • Occasionally, the IRS website may be slow, or the IRS DRT connection may be a little uncooperative. It’s also possible that a filer may not qualify to use the DRT. In order to continue completing your FAFSA, you may find it easier just to enter the income and tax figures yourself. In order to do that, you’ll need your tax return. The good news here is that the FAFSA will direct you to the correct line on the tax return for the information requested.

Gather your tax returns before you start the FAFSA so you’ll be prepared. Having everything on hand will make the process go much faster and easier. Remember, Oct. 1 is right around the corner!

The FAFSA is Always Free!

College is an important financial investment in any student’s future. Between talk of scholarships and savings plans, it’s exciting to come across something completely free. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is one step in the college financial process that won’t cost you a cent. The FAFSA is an application that will help determine your eligibility for financial aid. The official application can be found at FAFSA.gov. Other websites may offer to process the application for you for a fee, but these sites are scams and are not the official free FAFSA application.

When filling out the free application on FAFSA.gov, you’ll need a FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID). This is a username and password that you’ll use to log in to your application. It will also serve as your electronic signature. Create your FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov and save your information on our FSA ID Worksheet. Once you create your FSA ID, you’re ready to log in to your free application. After your application is completed, the colleges that you applied to will send you a financial aid offer. This offer will list the amount and types of federal and state financial aid awarded to you. Remember, the official application is on FAFSA.gov and the FAFSA is always free!

FAFSA Mobile App

Did you know you can complete, sign and submit your FAFSA using a tablet or smart phone?

The myStudentAid mobile app was first released in 2018 by Federal Student Aid (FSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Education. This made it possible to access your FAFSA form using the app or your mobile browser. In December 2020, an updated version was released, offering a variety of new tools provided by FSA. The app now offers a more user-friendly design, as well as a Financial Aid Summary that allows you to keep track of your student loan and grant history. It also offers the ability for borrowers to track their loan repayment progress.

To access this tool, students, parents and borrowers will need to download FSA’s myStudentAid app. From there you can set up your FSA ID, or use your current ID to complete and submit your FAFSA as well as take advantage of these new features. Want to know more? Watch the YouTube video that walks you through the FAFSA step by step using the mobile app. You’ll find it FAFSA-nating!

Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid Office

As you navigate the college financial aid process, you may experience some twists and turns that you didn’t expect. When you’re enrolling in a technology center, career school, community college, or four-year college or university for the first time, you may not be sure what questions to ask the financial aid personnel at your school of interest. Here is a list of questions you may want to ask in order to have a better understanding of how it all works.

  • What types of financial aid do you offer?  
  • If I’m awarded a scholarship, will it change the amount of aid you can offer me?
  • Does your school have a deadline for FAFSA submission? What are the consequences if I don’t meet the deadline?
  • When will I know how much financial aid I’ll be eligible to receive?
  • Am I considered to be a dependent student, or independent?
  • Is there a way to change my dependency status?
  • What should I do if I have a circumstance that causes my/my parent(s)’ income to change?
  • Are there resources available to help me investigate other types of aid, such as state grants and scholarships?
  • Do you offer an installment plan that would allow me to make monthly payments through the year? If so, are there any associated fees?
  • What is the average student loan debt for your graduates?

Most of these questions can only be answered by a knowledgeable financial aid officer, since no two students’ circumstances are the same. Many factors are considered to determine your financial need, which is based on the data you supply on your FAFSA. Always be patient with those who work in the financial aid office! They want you to attend their school, but they must follow federal regulations to the letter. The more you know, the more you can help them assess your situation.

Grants, Work Study and Student Loans

As you prepare to pay college expenses, it’s important to know the amount of federal financial aid that may be available to you. Each year, grant amounts and student loan interest rates are subject to change. Here’s what you can expect for Academic Year 2021-2022.

Federal Pell Grant: Available to undergraduate students who qualify based on the level of their financial need as determined by Federal Student Aid, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. Beginning July 1, 2021, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college will increase to $6,495.

Federal Work-Study Program: If your campus administers work-study funds, you may be able to sign up for a part-time job, either on-campus or an approved site off-campus, enabling you to earn money to pay some of your college expenses. The maximum amount you can earn in the work-study program will be determined by your level of financial need. If you’re interested in work-study, be sure to ask the financial aid office if would qualify for the program.

Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, the interest rate on most federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020 is currently 0%. In addition, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payments. This 0% interest and suspension of payments will last through September 30, 2021, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2021-2022, beginning October 1, 2021, after the COVID-19 relief program has ended:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (through Bachelor’s degree)3.73%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoansGraduate or professional students5.28%
Direct PLUS LoansParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students6.28%

Be sure to visit StudentAid.gov for up-to-date information regarding interest rates and special allowances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Living on a College Budget

Before your first day of college, it’s important to consider creating a budget for the upcoming school year. If you know how much financial aid you’ll receive, evaluate your other monthly expenses that are a priority. You may have responsibilities such as car payments and maintenance, cellphone service and miscellaneous items. Remember that financial aid can only be used for educational, and some living expenses, so a budget can help with planning for other important purchases. Here are a few tips to assist with developing a budget while in college.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Whether it’s a parent or guardian, conversing with those who are supporting your educational pursuits allows expectations to be set for everyone involved. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself financially in college, inform others that you’ll need to be wise with managing your resources and may not be able splurge on certain items or activities. Talking it out allows everyone to be on the same page.

Essentials first, fun second. When developing a budget, account for necessities first, – housing, transportation, utilities etc. – then designate money for entertainment. Using this order can ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Some college campuses host many fun, free events that could make the most of a small entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores offer a college student discount, as many companies do. While this tip may not directly relate to developing a budget, it can help you stick to the one you create. Clipping coupons along with shopping on sale can also assist with managing your finances. Browse retailers’ websites or apps for coupons and sales that may help with purchasing items on your shopping list.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the vending machine can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Buying a coffeemaker and snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact of these habits on your budget. Additionally, instead of eating out often, utilize your college meal plan or pack a lunch. You can see what habits are busting your budget by using a budget tracking app. Trackers can show your spending behavior and give you insight to routines that may need to change.

To learn more about tips for budgeting while in college, visit OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.