Verification is a secondary part of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process that confirms certain information on your application. Don't worry if your school selects you for verification—it doesn't mean you've done anything wrong. In fact, schools select about 1/3 of students for verification; here are some of reasons why:
- You were chosen at random.
- Your FAFSA contains estimated information.
- Your FAFSA was incomplete.
- Inconsistencies were found in the information on your FAFSA.
- For the 2017-18 FAFSA, your financial information doesn't match your 2016-17 FAFSA.
To complete the verification process, you will likely need to provide documentation to validate certain info on your FAFSA. Ask your school's financial aid office what they specifically need from you.
What To Do If You're Selected
Your school will notify you if they've selected you. Contact your school's financial aid office if you have questions. You cannot receive your financial aid until you complete the verification process—which can take up to 45 days—so it's important to act quickly.
After you provide the new documentation, the financial aid office at your college will compare it to what you reported on the FAFSA and adjust your aid accordingly. They will verify the following information for you (and your spouse or parents, if applicable):
- Number of people in your household
- Number of people in your household attending college
- Income and child support amounts
- Tax information
(Note: The 2017-18 FAFSA will use the same tax year information as your 2016-17 FAFSA. If this financial information does not match on your FAFSAs, you will likely need to verify any amounts that are different.)
Since the verification process can take up to 45 days, you may want to contact the financial aid office at your school 2 weeks after you submit your FAFSA to see if they selected you. That way, you can start things faster.
Will Verification Change Anything?
Your financial aid office will resolve anything that doesn't match between your FAFSA and your documentation during verification. As a result, your financial aid package may increase or decrease.
If you used estimated tax information when you filed your FAFSA, you can update this information during verification. The quickest way to do this is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The same is true if your income or a family member's income has changed since you submitted your FAFSA. If you made a mistake when filing your FAFSA, you can correct that information too. Any of these updates could change your financial aid award—and yes, that change could be in your favor.
Note that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool won't have your data until around 3 weeks after e-filing taxes or around 11 weeks after paper filing. If that timing doesn't work for you, you will need to order an IRS transcript directly from the IRS. You can do that in person, by phone (800.829.1040), or online at IRS.gov. You can only get one transcript per year, so make extra copies and keep the original for yourself.
Starting with the 2017-18 award year, families are now able to complete the FAFSA with their prior-prior year tax information (i.e., their income from 2 years ago). This will allow more applicants to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool and to avoid having to update estimated information. This new procedure went into effect October 2016. If your 2017-18 FAFSA information differs from the previous year’s FAFSA information, any disbursements not made from your federal financial aid may be placed on hold until the discrepancies are fixed. You will become ineligible for federal work-study (FWS) payments as well.
Mistakes Vs. Fraud
Families make mistakes filling out these forms all the time—that's not a big deal. Every once in while though, someone may try to game the system with false or fraudulent information to better their chances of getting financial aid. If you supplied information on the FAFSA that doesn't reflect your actual situation, and it is determined that you did this purposely to obtain financial aid you weren’t eligible for, you could be charged with a crime.
What's the difference between an honest mistake and fraud? An honest mistake might be including your big brother as someone attending college—when he actually just graduated. Fraud would be saying that your family is receiving state welfare benefits and your parents are unemployed—when neither is true.
Financial aid counselors see loads of mistakes on the FAFSA every year—and even fix them for you if they can! Don't panic if you think you've made one. Just make sure to report as accurately as you can, and you shouldn't have any problems.