FAFSA and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

If you’re working on your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application and plan to use the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to download your 2015 income tax figures, you may be out of luck. Currently this option, known as the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), is unavailable. The IRS and the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that the federal government purposefully shut off the IRS DRT amid security concerns and stated that “the online data tool will be unavailable for several weeks.”

If you’re not familiar with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, it allows students and parents completing the FAFSA to link directly to the IRS and electronically download tax figures into the FAFSA from their tax return. This process allows families a much faster and easier way to enter this information on their financial aid application.

You shouldn’t wait to complete your FAFSA because of the IRS glitch. Instead, you can manually enter your tax information directly into the FAFSA and submit it for processing. You aren’t too late to apply for financial aid if you’re just now completing the FAFSA, but remember that sending it in as soon after the annual start date of Oct. 1 is the best option.

It’s important to note that, at this time, the IRS has not suggested that the Data Retrieval Tool has been attacked or that their systems have been affected. Please follow StartWithFAFSA.org for updates to this current issue with the IRS DRT. We’ll post as soon as the problem has been resolved.

Presidents’ Day Quiz!

Happy Presidents Day! We’re thankful for so many of our nation’s leaders who have made it a priority to see that any student can attain higher education as a part of their pathway to success. Try this fun quiz to see how much you know about the history of U.S. Presidents and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

1. Who signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, which authorized most of the federal student financial aid programs?

a. John F. Kennedy
b. Richard Nixon
c. Lyndon B. Johnson
d. Abraham Lincoln

2. Who was president when the first Financial Aid Form (FAF) was
introduced in 1976?

a. Gerald Ford
b. Dwight D. Eisenhower
c. Franklin D. Roosevelt
d. Ronald Reagan

3. Which president was in office when the Higher Education Amendments of 1992 added the FAFSA to the financial aid process and required it to be free?

a. Barack Obama
b. Bill Clinton
c. Jimmy Carter
d. George H.W. Bush

4. FAFSA on the Web (fafsa.gov) was launched in 1997, during the presidency of:

a. George W. Bush
b. Bill Clinton
c. John Adams
d. Barack Obama

Answers:

Understanding Your Award Letter

Once you’ve been accepted to a college, university or career technology center, and you’ve completed your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you will receive a financial aid award letter. This letter is very important. It will notify you of the types of federal and state assistance you can receive to pay for college.

Most financial aid award letters are sent to you electronically, but a few schools may provide paper documents. Be sure you know the system your school uses so you don’t miss out on any deadlines. Award letters will state the amount of financial aid you can receive, but you will be required to accept or decline this money and notify your school by a specific date. If you miss the deadline, you may be missing out on money for college!

You don’t have to accept everything listed to you in the award letter. Research the aid programs that you’re being offered and make an educated decision. Remember: grants and scholarships are typically considered free money, work-study offers you the chance to work for your funds and student loans must be paid back in full with interest. If you have accumulated several scholarships and don’t need loan money, then don’t accept it! Loan funds that are declined will most likely still be available if you learn you need additional money later in the school year.

If you have questions about the aid you’re awarded, please contact the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. To learn more about financial aid programs, visit UCanGo2.org or StudentAid.ed.gov.

What’s Federal Work-Study?

If you don’t already plan to work while attending college, you should be aware that there are some real advantages to it. It can help pay for college without adding to your future student debt and help you build your resume.

When you fill out the FAFSA, you may find that you qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program. Work-Study provides part-time jobs for eligible students on a college campus or in an approved nonprofit organization or public agency. The program encourages community service work and employment related to the student’s course of study. Students work a specified number of hours each week and typically earn minimum wage. When assigning work hours, your employer or your school’s financial aid office will consider your class schedule and your academic progress. You will be paid directly unless you request that the school use the money to pay for your outstanding education-related institutional expenses such as tuition, fees and room and board.

Whether through Work-Study or not, having a job while attending college will give you a head start in job hunting after you graduate. Most entry-level jobs will give you skills that employers are looking for, like customer service, money handling and organization. If you can find a job or workplace related to the career field you’re planning on, all the better. You’ll also meet people that you can list as references for future job applications.

Completing the 2017-18 FAFSA

If you’re completing a FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year, there are some new requirements you should be aware of. One of them is the new FAFSA release date. This form now becomes available on October 1 annually, rather than January 1. This allows you to fill out the FAFSA earlier and possibly learn your financial aid eligibility a little earlier, too.

Another change to the FAFSA allows students and families to complete this form using tax information that should already be completed, eliminating the need to update your tax information on your application once your taxes have been filed. Since the latest FAFSA, released on October 1, requires you to use your 2015 tax information, you can pull out your 2015 return and complete your application at FAFSA.gov now! The sooner you apply, the better!

If you’re unsure when to complete the FAFSA or the correct tax information to be used, check out the chart below. Good luck!

Chart detailing when to submit which FAFSA and what tax year information to use. Visit  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources/2017-18-fafsa-process-changes-text for accessible version.

How Much Money Will You Get for College?

Now that you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you may be wondering when you’ll hear how much financial aid you’ll receive for college. Will you know before the end of the year or will you wait until a few months after the first? Good question! Actually the schools we surveyed provided very different responses to that question and that’s probably because the 2017-18 FAFSA process has changed dramatically from what it had been in prior years.  Schools are adjusting their timelines and staff to make sure financial aid award notifications will be sent out as early as possible. Some colleges have already started sending award letters to their students, while others will send them anywhere from January to April.

No matter the time frame, if you’re questioning this process, contact the school(s) to which you’ve applied. They’ll let you know when they plan to send financial aid notifications and if they’ll go electronically or by snail mail. Most have deadlines attached for accepting or declining the aid you’ve been awarded so don’t miss out! Take the necessary steps to make sure you receive all the financial aid for which you’re eligible.

Have You Applied Yet?

Any student that needs money for college expenses in 2017-18 should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) now! The FAFSA underwent a lot of changes this year, including moving the application start date from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1. Since the FAFSA is available now, students should submit the form as soon as possible to maximize opportunities for financial aid for college. Get ahead of the game and set a reminder to submit the FAFSA Oct. 1 of next year, too!

Many types of financial aid are awarded on a first come-first served basis. This includes various types of federal aid as well as some aid through the state of Oklahoma. For example, this year, the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG), does not have a deadline for FAFSA completion. Instead, students are told it’s important to apply early. Typically, OTAG receives more eligible applications than can be awarded with available funds and how early a student applies can be the deciding factor in whether that student is offered an OTAG award.

The FAFSA is THE application for federal grants, college work-study and many student loan programs including:

Grants:
Pell Grant
Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

Work Study Program:
Federal Work-Study

Federal Student Loans:
Direct Subsidized Loan
Direct Unsubsidized Loan
Direct PLUS Loan
Federal Perkins Loan

So submit the FAFSA now. You may qualify for money for college!

How to Finish the FAFSA, Final Step: Follow-up

FAFSA Step 5So you’ve completed, signed and submitted the FAFSA, now what? It’s time to follow up!

Keep an eye on your email for something called a Student Aid Report (SAR) as well as information from the schools to which you chose to send your FAFSA results.

Your SAR will provide you with some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid. When you receive your SAR carefully review it and make sure your information is listed correctly. If you find a mistake, you will need to correct and resubmit your FAFSA.

Some schools may ask for more information, so be sure to provide any additional documentation they may require. Follow up with the school’s financial aid office if you have questions.