WHAT IS THE FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway receiving to the Pell Grant (up to $5810 for the 2017-18 school year), work-study, and student loans. Schools and scholarships also use the information from the FAFSA when awarding need-based grants. Because these scholarships are often awarded first-come, first-served, it is important to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible every year.
What is a grant? – Money you don’t have to pay back
What is work-study? – Money you earn by working an on-campus job
What is a loan? – Money you have to pay back after you leave school
- 2016-17 FAFSA – complete this if you are in college now or plan to start in the spring and you need financial aid for this school year.
- 2017-18 FAFSA – complete this if you need financial aid for the next school year.
|Application Opens||Application Closes*|
* Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm to find your state’s FAFSA deadline.
WHY SHOULD I COMPLETE THE FAFSA?
- All of your financial aid is based on your FAFSA – the Pell Grant and need-based scholarships and loans. For 2016-17, the Pell Grant can be as much as $5,815. For 2017-18, it will be $5,920.
- It’s easy, especially if you’ve done it before – it should not take longer than 20-30 minutes.
- Most financial aid is first-come, first-served. You want to be at the head of the line, so do it now!
HOW DO I COMPLETE THE FAFSA?
Gather your information
- Your social security or alien registration number
- Your 2015 tax return (not your biological or foster parents’) if you completed one
- Your most recent bank statement if you have one
- Your foster care verification document – Ask your caseworker or agency for a letter verifying your foster care involvement for financial aid. This letter should include your dates in care and any resources you receive because you were in care.
- Your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to enter the online application and digitally sign and submit it
To be eligible for federal financial aid, young men over the age of 18 must be registered for the Selective Service.
To find out more, visit: https://www.sss.gov/Registration-Info.
Obtain a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID
You must have an FSA ID to complete an online FAFSA. This unique user name and password will enable you to access your FAFSA now and in subsequent years, as well as other federal student aid information such as your loan balance and repayment schedule should you have one.
Creating an FSA ID is quick and easy – visit https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm and it should take less than 10 minutes. Once you have created your ID, be SURE to keep the information someplace safe from where you will be able to retrieve it later.
Completing the FAFSA; what you need to know
Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and log in using your FSA ID. You will be prompted to start a new application or revise a current one, and you can select 2016-17 or 2017-18. After that, follow the directions.
As a foster youth, you are considered an Independent Student. What this means, is that you do not have to submit your parents’ (or foster parents’) tax return and therefore your eligibility for federal financial aid is not based on their income. As a foster youth, your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is generally ZERO, unless you personally have an annual income of over $10,300 and have to file a federal tax return.
- Questions 46-58 ask about your status. You need only one YES answer to qualify as independent. Generally, this is question 53, “At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?”
Ask your caseworker or agency to provide you with a Foster Care Letter, which should state the dates and jurisdiction of your time in care and may also list the programs (ETV, independent living services etc.) for which you are eligible.
Both the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 FAFSA ask for your 2015 tax information.
What if I didn’t file a federal tax return in 2015?
- If you answer “I’m not going to file.” to Question 32, you are skipped ahead to question 39.
- Question 39 – Answer with the amount you remember earning in 2015; if you earned over $10,300 as a single, independent student, you would have had to file a federal tax return.
- Question 40 – Answer with information for your spouse, if you were married in 2015.
- Questions 41-43 – These must be answered with information that is true for the day on which you complete the FAFSA.
What is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?
The FAFSA is linked to the IRS, and information from your tax return can be automatically uploaded from the IRS to your FAFSA using the IRS DRT. This is the best way to make sure your information is correct, and if your FAFSA is selected for verification (see below) you will NOT need to provide your school with a physical copy of your tax return. Information uploaded via the IRS DRT is considered verified by the federal government.
If you use the IRS DRT, do NOT change any of the uploaded information or it will flag you for verification and you will have to provide a physical copy of your tax return to your school.
I filed a federal tax return in 2015 – can I use the IRS DRT?
You can use the DRT UNLESS you filed your 2015 tax return
- Married Filing Separately
- Married, Head of Household, or
- You filed an amended tax return
- You filed a foreign tax return
How do I use the IRS DRT?
- Go to www.fafsa.gov and login using your FSA ID.
- Start your FAFSA for 2016-17 or 2017-18. If you applied previously, it should be populated with some of the answers from last year.
- When you get to the financial information tab, you will be asked questions to determine whether you are eligible to use the IRS DRT. If you are eligible, enter your FSA ID and password and click LINK TO IRS.
- From there, complete the requested information and click submit. Review your tax return, check “Transfer my information into the FAFSA,” and hit TRANSFER NOW.
- Your information will be transferred and you will be returned to your FAFSA.
- DO NOT CHANGE ANY OF THE TRANSFERRED INFORMATION.
What if my income has changed significantly since 2015?
Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you can talk to your financial aid office and they can assess your situation and make adjustments.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The Student Aid Report (SAR)
If you sign your FAFSA with your FSA ID, you will receive an email from FederalStudentAidFAFSA@cpsemail.ed.gov within three to five days. This email will give you instructions on how to access your SAR online.
The SAR will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in the upper right-hand corner. As a foster or former foster youth, your EFC should be ZERO. The SAR includes a summary of the information in the FAFSA, and your school will use it to determine your eligibility for financial aid. Make sure the information is all correct; if it is not, go back to www.fafsa.gov, enter with your FSA ID, and make the necessary changes.
If there is an asterisk (*) next to the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) on your Student Aid Report (SAR), your FAFSA has been selected for verification.
What is verification? Verification is the process used to confirm that the data reported on your FAFSA is correct. About one-third of all FAFSAs are selected for verification by the Department of Education, based on tax and personal information. Schools may select additional FAFSAs for verification.
Will my school tell me if my FAFSA has been selected for verification? Your school’s financial aid office will reach out to you through your online student account to request further information. Be sure to check your school email every day for this and any other important notices they may send you.
What do I do next?
- Visit your financial aid office right away – the sooner you’re verified, the sooner your financial aid package can be finalized.
- If you used the IRS DRT to provide tax information, you will not have to provide additional tax information.
- If you are asked to provide proof that you were in foster care, you can use a letter from your caseworker or agency.
Your Financial Aid Package
Your financial aid package is the combination of all grants and scholarships you receive, along with all loans you are offered. The total amount is based on your school’s cost of attendance (COA) and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).
Cost of Attendance – the total estimated cost of attending your college, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, and room and board. It is a general figure, not individually calculated for each student, but if you have special circumstances – for example a dependent child or a disability requiring specialized equipment – your financial aid office may be able to make adjustments to the total cost.
Review your financial aid package carefully. If you have questions, visit your financial aid office or make an appointment to speak with your ETV coordinator.
Just because you are offered loans does not mean you have to accept them. In many instances Pell, the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) and other scholarships and/or state or county resources may be enough to support a student with a realistic personal budget. Again, your ETV coordinator is very happy to discuss this with you.
In summary –
- Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible every year.
- If appropriate, use the IRS DRT to upload your tax information.
- Get a foster care letter from your caseworker or agency and keep it with your important papers – just in case.
- Review your SAR as soon as you get it.
- If you are selected for verification, visit your financial aid office IMMEDIATELY and take the steps they require.
- Review your financial aid package, with your ETV coordinator, financial aid officer, foster parent or other trusted adult, and accept your grants and loans responsibly.