News for Parents
Completing the FAFSA
As many of you know, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first application for various types of financial aid, including Penn College Scholarships, Federal Pell Grants, state grants, Direct Loans, and more. February and March are the ideal months to start planning for your student's 2014-2015 FAFSA.
There is a new 'marital status' choice for parents on this year's FAFSA: “Unmarried and both parents living together.” This means that legal parents (biological or adoptive) that are not married and live together will both need to provide their demographic and income information on the FAFSA.
In addition, same-sex parents that were legally married in a state or foreign country that permits same-sex marriages (regardless of where they live now) report their marital status as “Married or remarried” and need to provide both of their demographic and income information.
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) makes the FAFSA easier and faster to complete and greatly reduces the odds of applicant errors. The DRT is possible through the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Education (which oversees the FAFSA and regulates federal aid) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A majority of parents and virtually all unmarried student taxpayers will be able to use the DRT for the 2014-2015 FAFSA.
The downside of the DRT is a 'lag time' between the date a student or parent submits his or her 2013 IRS Tax Return and the date it is available to transfer key financial items to a FAFSA. That lag time is approximately three (3) weeks. Nevertheless it is worth the wait!
We recommend that students and parents who need to complete 2013 IRS Tax Returns do so and submit them (or have their tax preparer submit them) electronically no later than mid-March. About three (3) weeks later, students and parents can work together to complete and submit the students' 2014-2015 FAFSA and, in most cases, use the DRT. This will still allow students to meet Penn College's Priority FAFSA Submission Deadline of April 15.
Note that it is very important that parents and students do not change any of the FAFSA items that are transferred from the IRS by the DRT.
The DRT won't work for everyone. Married parents who file separate tax returns, separated parents with joint returns and tax filers with amended returns are not eligible to use the DRT. 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, most of this latter group will be able to use the DRT if they try again in a few weeks. Additional information from FAFSA.
Here are important tips for your student's FAFSA Application Process:
- Submit 2013 IRS Tax Returns electronically no later than mid-March
- Three weeks later and before April 15, complete and submit a 2014-2015 FAFSA
- Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, if eligible
- Do not change any of the FAFSA items transferred from the IRS
- A FAFSA can be saved and then finalized and submitted on a later date (remember the password!)
- Add answers to the FAFSA's financial questions that are not part of the IRS transfer, including
- child support received
- workers compensation
- payments to tax-deferred retirement savings plans
- Students submit their FAFSA after it's complete and both student and a parent have signed it using their Federal PINs.
- If the IRS discovers any errors or you later do an amended tax return, contact the Financial Aid Office
- Students and parents who do not need to file IRS tax returns and will not file should submit a FAFSA as soon as they have all 2013 financial documents
- Penn College's Priority FAFSA Submission Deadline is April 15
- Contact the Financial Aid Office or the government's 'FAFSA Help' with questions
- Penn College and many other institutions in Pennsylvania are providing FAFSA Completion Help Events
Even though the FAFSA is very important, it is not the only application students and parents complete. Refer to our Checklist for more information and be sure to read the section in this newsletter for Pennsylvania residents.
Online tutorials about the FAFSA
- '7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA' provided by the University of California at Santa Barbara
How to Fill Out the FAFSA has been provided on YouTube by the U.S. Department of Education
Federal Verification of the FAFSA
Approximately one out of three FAFSA applicants are selected 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. The Verification process is somewhat ‘customized’, so different students and parents may be required to provide different information.
Any taxpayer (student or parents) who used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) and did not change any of the transferred items will, with very few exceptions, not have to provide us with any financial documents for Verification. This is yet another good reason to use the DRT! Taxpayers who chose not to use the DRT or were unable to use it will, in most cases, need to provide us with signed copies of IRS Tax Return Transcripts ordered directly from the IRS.
Wage earners who don’t need to submit tax returns will need to provide us with copies of all 2013 W-2 Forms.
This year, the IRS is making Tax Return Transcripts available quickly online. Learn how to request a Tax Return Transcript.
The Financial Aid Office will start processing 2014-2015 FAFSA information in early March. 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 2014-15 Financial Aid Award Summary page:
- ‘Not Received'
- ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’
- ‘Verification Required,’ ‘Verification Received,’ ‘Verification Processing,’ or 'Verification Complete'
From March 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 too can check on the Verification status using the 'View Financial Aid Information' section.
Pennsylvania Residents and PA State Grant News
Thousands of Penn College students will again be eligible for a 2014-15 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 a new student completes the SGF:
- Immediately after the FAFSA is submitted, the following message appears on the FAFSA Confirmation page:
'Start your state application to apply for Pennsylvania state-based financial aid.'
- Click on the link to begin.
- A number of questions must be answered, and then the SGF is submitted electronically.
- 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).
If your new student overlooks the first two steps above, don't panic! S/he will still be able to complete the SGF but will need to wait at least 3 or 4 business days before s/he receives an email from PHEAA. Once that happens:
- Log in to PHEAA's Account Access (or create an account if needed and then log in), which will be linked from PHEAA's email.
- The SGF is presented via Account Access, where students complete steps 3 and 4 above.
If you or your student have any questions about the SGF or Account Access, contact PHEAA at 800-692-7392.
Returning students generally are not required to provide PHEAA with additional information at the time of their FAFSA submission.
The primary method that PHEAA 'communicates' with students is via e-mail. As mentioned earlier, PHEAA will remind students that their SGF needs completed and PHEAA may need other 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 2014-15 FAFSA is submitted.
Please note the e-mail 'domain' that PHEAA uses is @pheaa.org. You should “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.
During the month of May, PHEAA begins to inform students and the Financial Aid Office of tentative 2014-15 awards. PHEAA then requires the Financial Aid Office 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)
- Limits on the number of semesters of PHEAA Grants in a program of study
- Distance Learning Policy
All students who need a summer PHEAA Grant for summer enrollment make a separate summer application, which is totally online and will be available by May at www.pheaa.org.
Grants play an important role to help meet many of our students' educational expenses, so be sure not to overlook any requests from PHEAA!
Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is a financial aid term that defines what criteria students must achieve to remain eligible for future federal and state aid. The federal SAP policy differs from the policy for Pennsylvania state grants. For example, the Pennsylvania policy from PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency) does not take into account grade-point average whereas the federal policy does.
Federal SAP is reviewed for all continuing students at the end of the spring semester. Students are notified via letter or e-mail if they did not achieve federal SAP. PHEAA SAP is also reviewed at the end of spring semester, but only for students who will be enrolled, have been awarded a PHEAA Grant for the coming year, and had a PHEAA Grant in the 2013-14 academic year or before. We are obligated to inform PHEAA of students who don’t satisfy PHEAA SAP, and then PHEAA notifies those students via e-mail and PHEAA’s Account Access. Full details of each policy are available on the Satisfactory Academic Progress page.
Sometimes we get questions from parents regarding specific reasons why a son or daughter did not attain SAP and what, if anything, can be done to regain SAP quickly. While we appreciate the concern many parents have and we are well aware that many parents contribute toward their students’ educational costs, the fact is that students’ academic performance determines whether they do or do not achieve SAP. Therefore, any questions about SAP for an individual student should come directly from that student so we can be sure our answers and explanations, and any opportunities for exceptions, are well understood by the student. Once that has happened and if a student informs us to also discuss his or her SAP review with a parent, we will do so. We thank you for your understanding on how we communicate the details of the very important SAP policies to students.