News for Parents
Most of you know that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial application for various types of financial aid, including Penn College Scholarships, Federal Pell Grants, Direct Loans, and more. Although Penn College has extended its Priority FAFSA Application Deadline to April 15, now is the time to start planning for your student's 2012-13 FAFSA. The good news is that the FAFSA has recently become easier to use, thanks to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Students and parents who submit their IRS tax returns electronically and then wait one to two weeks to complete a FAFSA will, in most cases, be offered the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that automatically transfers key items from an IRS tax return directly to a FAFSA. Using this IRS transfer will decrease your FAFSA completion time, reduce the chances of error, and save you the worry of determining your ‘Adjusted Gross Income.’ Note that it is very important that you do not change any of the FAFSA items that are transferred from the IRS.
Although more than 80% of IRS tax filers are eligible for IRS Data Retrieval, married parents who file separate tax returns, separated parents with joint returns, those who have had a change in their marital status since 2011, and tax filers with amended returns are not eligible to use this tool. In addition, tax filers who complete their FAFSA too soon after electronically submitting their tax returns won’t be able to transfer IRS data. However, these tax filers should still be able transfer the information if they try again in a week or two.
Here are important steps to your student’s FAFSA Application Process:
- Submit 2011 IRS Tax Returns electronically as soon as possible.
- One to two weeks later and before April 15, complete 2012-13 FAFSA.
- Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, if eligible.
- Do not change any of the FAFSA items transferred from the IRS.
- Add answers to financial questions not part of the IRS transfer, such as income from wages.
- Students submit their FAFSA after it’s complete and both student and one parent have signed it using their Federal PINs.
- If the IRS discovers any errors or you do an amended tax return, contact the Financial Aid Office.
Approximately one out of three FAFSA applicants are chosen for a review process termed ‘Federal Verification.’ As part of Verification, the Financial Aid Office must compare FAFSA data with other information received from students and parents. We send a detailed letter and other information that describes the process to students that must be verified. For those families that experienced Federal Verification previously, please note that federal regulations have changed the process.
The major change is in the type of IRS tax documentation we require. We can no longer accept copies of IRS tax returns. Starting with the 2012-13 FAFSA, we can only accept signed copies of IRS Tax Return Transcripts ordered directly from the IRS. However, for those students and parents who used IRS Data Retrieval and did not change any of the transferred items, we generally will not need an IRS Transcript – another great reason to use IRS Data Retrieval. You can request a Tax Return Transcript online, by phone, or by mail.
Other changes for 2012-13 Federal Verification:
- Child support paid to someone else – more detail is needed
- Food Stamps recipients – we ask which 'household' member received Food Stamps in 2010 or 2011
- Wage earners who don’t need to submit tax returns – copies of 2011 W-2 Forms must be submitted
The Financial Aid Office will start processing 2012-13 FAFSA information in February. When processing begins, students can check the following statuses of their FAFSA from the Student Information System (SIS) using the ‘View Financial Aid Information’ section and accessing the 2012-13 Financial Aid Award Summary page:
- ‘Not Received'
- ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’
- ‘Verification Required,’ ‘Verification Received,’ ‘Verification Processing,’ or 'Verification Complete'
From late winter into the summer, we receive a large number of Verifications and we cannot process them as quickly as we would like to. If your son or daughter's FAFSA is chosen for Verification, we appreciate your patience. Promptly providing us with all of the information we request will allow us to complete the Verification more quickly. Remember if your student has given you Parent/Guest Access on SIS, you can check on the Verification status using the 'View Financial Aid Information' section.
Pennsylvania Residents and PA State Grant News
Every year, thousands of Penn College students are eligible for a Pennsylvania State Grant from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). First-time FAFSA applicants must submit PHEAA's State Grant Form (SGF) in order for PHEAA to determine eligibility. Here is how your student completes the SGF:
- After the FAFSA is submitted, the following message appears on the FAFSA confirmation page:
'Optional Feature - Start your state application - Click here if you want to apply for Pennsylvania state-based financial aid.'
- Click on the link to start the application.
- Log in to PHEAA's Account Access (or create an account if needed and then log in).
- The SGF is presented via Account Access.
- A number of questions must be answered, and then the SGF is submitted.
- The signature page of the SGF must then be printed, signed, and mailed to PHEAA (failure to do this step will result in an incomplete application).
Please note that returning students generally are not required to provide PHEAA with information at the time of their FAFSA submission.
If your student overlooks the first two steps above, he/she will still be able to complete the SGF. After 3 or 4 business days, your student should begin with step three and complete the process.
The primary method that PHEAA ‘communicates’ with students is via e-mail. Sometimes PHEAA will remind students that their SGF must be completed or PHEAA may need additional information from students and parents to determine eligibility. As a result, it is very important to monitor your e-mail messages for possible PHEAA messages after your student’s 2012-13 FAFSA is submitted. Please note the e-mail 'domain' that PHEAA uses is @pheaa.org. Please “whitelist” this domain in your e-mail account and your student’s e-mail account so PHEAA messages will not go to your Spam or Junk folders.
Typically in the month of May, PHEAA informs students and the Financial Aid Office of estimated 2012-13 awards. PHEAA then requires us to further determine eligibility based on PHEAA’s policies. If we determine a student does not satisfy all policies, we must inform PHEAA, which will then reduce or remove the award. The most common PHEAA policies are:
- PHEAA Satisfactory Academic Progress (for those that had a previous PHEAA award)
- Gift Aid Policy
- Limits on the number of semesters of PHEAA Grants in a program of study
- Distance Learning Policy
- Limits on the number of developmental (remedial) credits
PHEAA Grants play an important role to help meet many of our students' educational expenses, so be sure not to overlook any requests from PHEAA!