This is the final post in a three-part series on the FAFSA's income reporting options.
The Department of Education encourages students and families who are seeking grants, scholarships, and other financial aid for the 2013-14 academic year to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when entering their 2012 income data into the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. With the DRT, students and their parents can transfer the income information reported on their tax return quickly, easily and accurately into the online FAFSA.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to use the Data Retrieval Tool. So, what can you do if you are not able to use the DRT?
First, make sure the DRT is not an option. You won’t be eligible to use the retrieval tool if you answer “Yes” to any of the following questions:
- Did your file an amended IRS federal tax return for the 2012 tax year?
- Did you file a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return?
- Did you file your 2012 IRS federal tax return as “Married Filing Separately”?
- Did you file your 2012 IRS federal tax return as “Head of Household”?
- Did you file your 2012 federal tax return electronically during the last 3 weeks or by mail in the last 8 weeks?
If you the student or you the parent answer “Yes” to any of these questions, you will NOT be able to use the DRT to help you file the FAFSA.
Note to dependent students: If you answer “No” to each of your DRT eligibility questions, you will be able to use the DRT to summon your income information from your federal tax return whether or not your FAFSA parent is able to use the DRT. Conversely, if your parent is eligible to use the DRT, but, you, the dependent student, are not, your parent can still employ the Data Retrieval Tool.
If you answered "No" to all of the eligiblity questions, you should try to use the DRT. For tips on how to do it, read my earlier blog post, "FAFSA/IRS Data Retrieval Tool – What It Is and How It Works".
But all is not lost if either or both of you can’t use the DRT. You and your FAFSA parent (if required) can still complete the FAFSA the old-fashioned way. Simply type in the answers to the income questions, by supplying the same numbers you reported on your federal income tax return. Just make sure that you don't accidentally transpose your income. Typos are a common FAFSA mistake, and FAFSA mistakes can be very costly if left uncorrected.
Changes to the FAFSA have simplified the data entry requirements and taken much of the “mystery’” out of reporting income information. For each income question, the FAFSA identifies the line number on your federal tax return. Simply report the number recorded in that line item. As illustrated below, Question 84 in the parent’s info section (on the paper FAFSA) tells you that you’ll find the answer in line 55 on IRS Form 1040, or line 35 on Form 1040A or line 10 on the 1040EZ form.
Do not hesitate to file the FAFSA. This application is everyone’s gateway to getting the financial aid funding needed to pay for college ̶ including Federal Pell grants and Work-Study, low-cost federal student loans, state grants, and even institutional scholarships and merit awards.
If you’re unsure of how to answer any of the FAFSA’s income questions, take advantage of the readily available counseling services available in your community or at the Department of Education. During the next few weeks, you may have the opportunity to ask your question in person. Professionals from the financial aid world will be on hand at College Goal Sunday and other FAFSA counseling events that are being held nationwide in January, February and March.
Other resources are available to help you decide what to report, and financial aid professionals are just a phone call or keyboard query away.
- You can call the financial aid office at the school you’re seeking to attend.
- You can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center, which currently is taking calls seven days a week (except on federal holidays). The center’s toll-free number is 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). If you are hearing impaired, call the TTY number at 1-800-730-8913. You can type your question and get an answer via an online chat with the Federal Student Aid Information Center. The hotline and chat services are free of charge and available 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturday (Eastern Time). Sunday service hours are available 12 noon to 6:00 p.m. (Eastern Time), through February 24.
Sue Allmon is a financial aid administrator with more than 25 years of experience in helping students find money needed to pay for college.