Category Archives: Tax Information

IRS DRT

The 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened on Oct. 1. The FAFSA is a form that details a student’s financial situation, which is shared with selected colleges and universities to determine how much financial aid to offer the student. 

In order to share financial information, students and parents must submit their 2019 W-2 forms and tax returns. Families have the option to input this information manually, but there is another tool available that can make the process easier.

The Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) is a feature located inside the online and mobile app FAFSA. It allows students and parents to transfer 2019 tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.

There are several benefits to using the IRS DRT:

1. It saves time as you’re completing the FAFSA. Instead of hunting for the correct numbers on your tax forms and running the risk of making an error, you’ll simply type a few words, click a few buttons, and the bulk of the tax questions on your FAFSA will be complete!

2. Using the IRS DRT reduces your chances of being selected for verification. Verification is the process your school uses to confirm the information provided on the FAFSA is accurate. During the verification process, your school may request various documents to verify the information provided on your FAFSA. Errors that occur when entering tax information manually can cause a student to be selected for verification.

3. If you do happen to be selected for verification, having used the IRS DRT will simplify the process. If you use the IRS DRT and are selected for verification, you will not have to provide any documentation to verify tax data. Your school will know it is accurate since it was transferred directly from the IRS into your FAFSA.

While using the IRS DRT is optional, students and parents are encouraged to use the tool to create a smoother and more accurate application process.

The FAFSA Is Now Available

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available!

It’s the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college or other education after high school. Students often ask if the FAFSA is a scholarship, it’s not. The FAFSA is simply a statement about a family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. You can submit your FAFSA even if you haven’t applied to any colleges yet. In fact, if you’re not sure which college you want to attend, you can request that your FAFSA information be shared with up to 10 different campuses that you may want to learn more about. Every student who may need money for college for the 2021-22 school year should complete this FAFSA.

The current FAFSA is available online at FAFSA.gov.

Need some guidance to get started on your FAFSA? Check out our resources:

FAFSA in Five Steps: This publication explains the steps to completing the application and provides reminders for additional materials you might need.

FAFSA Modules: These five PowerPoint presentations walk through the details of each step of the FAFSA process.

FAFSA and Financial Aid Video: Sometimes it helps to hear someone explain the FAFSA process. Our new FAFSA video walks students through common FAFSA questions.

If you’re still wondering why the FAFSA is so important, keep in mind that during the 2018-2019 school year, $2.6B dollars in federal financial aid for college was left unclaimed by students. They would have been qualified to receive the aid, but they didn’t simply because they didn’t submit a FAFSA. Discover what you’re eligible for by submitting your FAFSA today!

Find Your Latest Tax Return

When you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) 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. The tax year will always be two years before the start of the academic term for which you’re applying for aid. For example, if you’re going to submit a FAFSA for the 2021-2022 school year, you’ll need your 2019 tax information.

Many applicants will choose to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which will automatically transfer the information from a designated tax return to their FAFSA. But even if your use the DRT, it’s still helpful to have your tax return and W-2s on hand when you complete your FAFSA.

Here are two reasons why:

  • If a tax return was filed as ‘Married, Filing Jointly’ and two people who filed a joint return are reporting their income on a FAFSA, they’ll still need to report their two incomes separately. Their separate incomes are shown on their W-2s.
  • Occasionally, the IRS website may be slow, or the IRS DRT may be a little uncooperative. It’s also possible that a filer may not qualify to use the DRT. In order to continue, 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 of the tax return for the information requested.

Ensuring that everyone whose information is required on your FAFSA knows the location of their latest tax return will make the whole FAFSA process more comfortable for everyone involved. After all, October is really not that far away!

Completing the 2021-22 FAFSA

It’s almost time to start the 2021-2022 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 2021. 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 2019 W2 and tax return. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll also need your parent(s)’ financial information and 2019 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 an 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 are 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.

I Didn’t File A Tax Return for The 2019 Tax Year, Should I keep my W-2’s?

Quite simply, yes.

If you had income (earned and/or unearned) in 2019 and you are a single dependent who can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you may still be required to file your own return. The amount of your 2019 income will determine whether or not you need to file. See the instructions at the beginning of the 2019 IRS 1040 form, and look for page 10, Chart B.

Now that you’ve determined whether or not you should file a tax return, let’s just say you didn’t have to file because you didn’t make enough money. If this describes your situation, it’s still very important that you save the W-2(s) you received this year. You should have received one from each employer who reported your earnings and withholding tax to the IRS.

Why is it so important that you hold on to your W-2s? Think FAFSA! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will ask you to report your income from two years prior to the year that you’ll attend college. So, if you plan to go to college in the fall of 2020, you’ll need your 2018 income information. For the fall of 2021, you’ll need to supply the information from 2019.

Also, you’re still required to report your wage, salary and tip income even if you didn’t receive a W-2 from an employer. If you’re not sure what your income was in 2019, use the Income Estimator that’s available on your FAFSA.

Keep those W-2’s! You’ll need them when you’re applying for federal financial aid.

How to make FAFSA Corrections

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form you submit to determine your eligibility to receive financial aid. This form asks various questions on information you probably haven’t thought about before. Since these questions may be uncommon to you and your family, it’s easy to make a mistake when completing the application. If you need to make corrections to the FAFSA after you’ve submitted it, there are a few ways you can fix the errors.

  • Log back in – If you need to correct some information on your FAFSA, such as change your high school’s name or add more colleges to the application, you can simply log back into the FAFSA form. To do this, you’ll need your FSA ID. When you log in, you’ll see a box that shows information about your application status, along with your next steps in the FAFSA process. Under this box is a section that says, “You can also”. In that section, find the link to “Make FAFSA Corrections”. Click on the link to access your application. After you’ve made the necessary changes, submit the application again with the correct information. Don’t forget to sign the FAFSA again with your FSA ID!

  • Update your SAR – When you first submit your FAFSA, it generates a Student Aid Report or SAR. This report shows all the information you entered on your application. If you need to change your name or Social Security number, you can make those adjustments by printing out your SAR and correcting the errors. Unfortunately, the application doesn’t allow you to update this information on the electronic version. You can find and print your SAR in the “You can also” section of FAFSA.gov, after you’ve logged in with your FSA ID. Once you’ve printed out the report and made your changes, mail the corrected SAR to the address stated on the form. Additionally, if you need to change your name due to marriage, divorce, etc., you must first make those changes with the Social Security Administration (SSA). When SSA has corrected your information, you can then update your FSA ID, as well as the FAFSA form, with the right data.

  • Speak with financial aid – For small changes such as updating your email or mailing address, you can use the previous two methods. However, if you need to correct financial information on the FAFSA, especially if you used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, you may have to submit corrections through the financial aid office at your anticipated school. Students who manually entered their financial information on the FAFSA can log back into FAFSA.gov and make changes. Those who used the IRS Data Retrieval tool to complete the income portion must speak with their financial aid office to fix any errors. Talk to the office about the errors that were made and learn how you can correct the mistakes. The financial aid office may want extra documentation, so be sure to give them all the required information. You can make changes to your name or Social Security number through the financial aid office as well.

Submitting the FAFSA with the right information is important. If you need to make changes, don’t wait. Adjust your answers as soon as you learn a mistake was made. Using any of these methods will help you successfully make changes. For more information on how to submit FAFSA corrections, go to studentaid.ed.gov.

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.

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.

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.

What to Expect with the New IRS Form 1040

Have you heard? There’s a new 1040 form coming, and it will be available for the 2018 tax year. Here’s a brief summary of the changes to the form.

  • The new 1040 replaces the current form, as well as form 1040-A and 1040-EZ. All taxpayers will now be using the same form.
  • The new form contains 23 lines; the 1040 for tax year 2017 contained 79 lines.
  • More schedules/forms will now be available. According to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), they used a ‘building block approach’ when drafting these changes. All filers will now use the new 1040, and those with more than the basic details to report will attach one or more schedules or forms to their return.
  • At least six new schedules will be available, numbered one through six. Do you remember schedules that are lettered–Schedule A, B, C, etc.? For the most part, they’re still in play, and you can continue to use them to report your 2018 income tax information.
  • Here’s an example of how your reporting methods may change. If you claimed an education credit for 2017, it would have been entered on Line 50 of the 1040 form. For the 2018 tax year, if you claim an education credit you’ll complete a Schedule 3 (Nonrefundable Credits), and then include the total from Schedule 3 on Line 12 of the new form.

The purpose of these changes is to make the filing process less burdensome for a great many filers who usually didn’t have any ‘extras’ to report in previous years.

For more information about the changes coming for the 2018 tax year, see these two informative articles at Forbes.com:

Here’s How The New Postcard-Sized 1040 Differs From Your
Current Tax Return

IRS Announces 2018 Tax Rates, Standard Deductions, Exemption Amounts And More

*All information is based on IRS drafts of 2019 tax forms and is subject to change.

 

529 Plan on the FAFSA

A 529 Plan can be a huge benefit in paying college expenses. However, this college savings account can be tricky to report on the FAFSA. If the account is in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name, then the 529 Plan should be reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA. If the student is independent, meaning s/he doesn’t have to report parental information, then the plan should be reported as a student asset. The plan doesn’t have to be reported as an asset if someone other than the student or custodial parent owns the account, such as a grandparent or family friend.

Another aspect of the 529 Plan that can be challenging is distributions from the account. Distributions are funds taken from the 529 Plan for any reason. Students and parents only have to report a distribution from the account if the plan wasn’t reported on the FAFSA as an asset. Here are some guidelines to ensure that you accurately report any 529 Plan distributions:

  1. A non-qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for non-educational expenses – will be included in the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of the student’s federal income tax return. The AGI will be a part of the student’s total income, so the student will just need to report his or her income on the FAFSA.
  2. A qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for educational expenses – should be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA.
  3. A distribution made from an account that the student or the custodial parent does not own must be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA, as well.

The best option for reporting a 529 Savings Plan is to leave the account in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name. By doing this, the Plan will be reported as an asset and the family won’t have to report distributions made from the account. For more information on how to report the 529 Plan on the FAFSA, visit Edvisors.com/plan-for-college.