Parents may not be thrilled to hear it, but about one in three financial aid applications are selected for verification – meaning they must verify financial records listed on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before they can qualify for college financial aid.

Which FAFSAs are Selected for Verification

The U.S. Department of Education uses an undisclosed risk model to identify which FAFSAs are more likely to contain errors. These FAFSAs are selected for verification.

Pell Grant recipients are particularly targeted for FAFSA verification. Industry data shows that Pell Grant recipients are three times more likely to be selected for verification than non-recipients, especially if they qualify for the maximum Pell Grant.

That’s a big problem, as Pell Grants are a preferred type of financial aid for low-income U.S. families. Some low-income students do not complete verification, despite being eligible, because their parents ask “just how many times do we have to prove that we’re poor?”

How Verification Works

Structurally, the verification process requires parents to provide documentation corresponding to data elements on the FAFSA.

  • The college your child is applying to requests that financial documents on the form be verified by parents. Usually the verification request comes from the college, not from the U.S. government.
  • The parents gather the financial documents requested and send them to the college or university.
  • The college or university does its due diligence, checks the forms to make sure everything is current and correct, and responds back to the parents with any follow-up questions.

Some colleges will ask the family to complete a verification worksheet.

Typical documentation might include the family’s federal income tax returns and/or IRS tax return transcripts, proof of income documentation, and proof of high school completion such as a high school diploma or GED.

Do Not Delay

If you’re asked to verify documents on your child’s FAFSA form, the worst move to make is to ignore the verification request. If you fail to comply with the verification request by the college’s verification deadline, your son or daughter could easily lose out on financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships and loans.

What to Do If You Receive a FAFSA Verification Request

If your son or daughter’s FAFSA application is selected for verification, job number one is to not panic – and take these action step to keep the FAFSA train rolling:

Look for the asterisk. Check the expected family contribution (EFC) line on your online FAFSA or Student Aid Report (SAR). If there is an asterisk next to it, you’ve been selected for verification.

Don’t take it personal. In many cases, FAFSA verification requests are issued randomly or are issued to match up key financial data information – you’re definitely not being targeted because you withheld information or did anything wrong. The mission is to provide the correct financial documents requested by the college as soon as possible – that should be the focus.

Complete the worksheets. Your son or daughter’s college will include worksheets when they issue a verification request. In many cases, just simply completing the worksheet is all you’ll need to do to satisfy the college’s verification request. If you run into a query that has nothing to do with your family just jot down N/A to note that you saw the question, but it doesn’t apply to you.

Leaving any worksheet query blank is a no-no, as it might lead to more paperwork requests sent back to you, which could lead to costly delays.

Pay attention to the deadline and meet it. Once you get a request for verification, make sure to acknowledge the request, answer any questions the school might have for you, and get the correct paperwork back to them as soon as possible.

Remember, any delay in sending your documentation back runs the risk of losing out on financial aid, as colleges often give our financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Failure to return the verification forms by the deadline will cause you to lose this year’s financial aid.

Review your FAFSA form before you send it in the first place. Errors can happen in the rush to get the FAFSA form out the door, but you can cut down the odds of being verified with an error-free form.

That means thoroughly reviewing your FAFSA form – have a spouse or trusted family member or friend double-check it, if possible. Also, take full advantage of the IRS data retrieval tool, which automatically steers key household financial data straight from your federal income tax returns onto the FAFSA.

If you don’t (or can’t) use the IRS data retrieval tool, you may be asked to obtain a tax return transcript using the IRS Get Transcript tool or to file IRS Form 4506-T.

Know where to go with questions. If you have a question related to the school’s verification request, don’t hesitate to ask. The go-to source for FAFSA-related queries is the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

How to Reduce the Odds of Verification

Most FAFSAs are selected for verification because of issues involving income and taxes.

If a data element is transferred from a federal income tax return to the FAFSA, it is not selected for verification.

So, the best way to reduce the likelihood of having a FAFSA selected for verification is to use the IRS data retrieval tool to transfer income and tax information from your federal income tax return to the FAFSA.

The Takeaway on Being Verified

If you’re the subject of a FAFSA verification request, take it seriously and promptly address the queries posted by your child’s college or university.

The downside of not doing so is significant, with a loss of financial aid if you don’t meet the school’s deadlines. Don’t let that happen – not when your son or daughter’s college future is on the line.