what you can do now to prepare for the financial aid application process

Essential Info About College Financial Aid Forms

With the sticker price of many private colleges exceeding $60,000 a year and the cost of public universities steadily rising, more and more families are struggling to fund their children’s college educations. If you think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, take the time to file the required financial aid forms. Even if you don’t think you will quality for need-based aid, it may be to your family’s advantage to apply anyway – you may be surprised that you do qualify! And, many schools use these financial aid forms to allocate merit-based aid.

To apply for need-based financial aid for college, families must complete one or two financial aid forms: the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) and, sometimes, the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. October 1 is the first day these forms become available this year.  These forms use your financial data from the “prior prior” year. In other words, for the 2018-2019 financial aid forms, families will use their 2016 financial and tax information.

All colleges require submission of the FAFSA for financial aid consideration. For current high school seniors expecting to attend college next year, the 2018-2019 FAFSA can be accessed and submitted at https://fafsa.ed.gov/ beginning October 1, 2017. About 250 of the more selective colleges and universities also require submission of the CSS Profile. This can be accessed and submitted at https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/, also beginning October 1, 2017.

The deadline to submit these forms varies from college to college and by application type (early decision, early action, or regular decision). It is necessary to check each college’s website or financial aid office to know the deadlines for each submission. Missing these deadlines can seriously affect your student’s eligibility for financial aid. A growing number of colleges now have a November 1 or November 15 financial aid deadline for Early Decision and Early Action applicants, along with a later deadline for Regular Decision applicants.

There is a change to the FAFSA this year that everyone should know about. Because of concerns about the possibility of privacy breaches with the FAFSA’s IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), the Federal government suspended its use in the middle of last year’s application season. The DRT is the system that links and verifies that a family’s income information reported on the FAFSA is the same as what they reported to the IRS on their tax return. Using the DRT is a more streamlined way to file the FAFSA and helps eliminate manual entry errors. And, if your family’s FAFSA is selected for verification, the DRT-provided information is already verified so the process is much faster.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will return with the 2018–2019 FAFSA form on Oct. 1, 2017, with additional security and privacy protections added. According to www.efcplus.com, “the changes to the DRT process are important to understand since the FAFSA submission will now be a blind income submission if you opt to use the DRT system. The blind submission is an important change that all parents need to be aware of, especially first time filing families.”

What “Blind Income Submission” means is that if you use the IRS DRT when completing the 2018-2019 FAFSA form, your tax return information will not be displayed on the DRT web page or on your FAFSA form. Instead, you’ll see “Transferred from the IRS” in the appropriate fields on the FAFSA. While the DRT remains the fastest way to input your tax return information into the FAFSA form, the change to blind income submission means you will not be able to verify that your income information was accurately transferred from the IRS to the FAFSA through the DRT system. Furthermore, once a family uses the DRT system, only a college financial aid office can make corrections to the imported fields. This is a concern, since the submission is blind and cannot be verified by the submitter.

What is a family to do? If you are concerned about the blind income submission feature of the DRT, some experts recommend that you complete the FAFSA manually first and get an initial Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is an estimate of the amount a family is able to contribute to a year of college expenses, based on income, assets, and benefits. After you have completed the manual FAFSA submission and printed the Student Aid Report (SAR), turn on the DRT and resubmit the FAFSA: the EFC from the manual submission and the submission using the DRT should be very close, if not the same.

Read the following articles for more helpful information about FAFSA and the Data Retrieval Tool:

Families, if your child is applying to college this fall and you think your family may require financial aid at any point during his or her undergraduate career, file the FAFSA and CSS Profile this year. Many colleges will not consider a financial aid application from a current student admitted as a full-pay freshman if they did not submit the FAFSA before they started college. Remember, again, that many colleges use the FAFSA or CSS Profile also to award merit aid.