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.
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 Student Aid Report (SAR), which you'll receive after submitting your FAFSA, will indicate if you've been selected for verification. Look for an asterisk next to your expected family contribution. Your school will also notify 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
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 change—and yes, that change could be in your favor.
If you used estimated tax information when you filed your FAFSA, you can update this information during verification. This shouldn't be an issue for most families, though, as the FAFSA uses tax info from 2 years before the latest award year ("prior-prior year"). Using this older info allows more applicants to import their data with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) and to avoid having to update estimated information.
If you received an extension on your taxes and still haven't filed them, you can still enter your information manually and update it later. If you can't use the DRT for a different reason, you can order an IRS transcript 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.
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.