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Tool Syncing FAFSA with IRS Data to Debut in January

December 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For students used to syncing just about every website they visit with Facebook, the amount of manual data entry involved in applying for financial aid can seem completely alien and unnecessary. In fact, many students who would qualify for aid either fail to complete the FAFSA or do so incorrectly, due to the confusing and time-consuming nature of the application process.

Members of the higher education community were concerned about this, as well, so when Congress renewed the Higher Education Act last year, they included a provision to update the FAFSA to make it easier for families to complete. The proposed changes will go into effect in 2010, and some students could be seeing a simpler FAFSA as soon as January.

Under the new system, students completing the FAFSA on the Web will be able to automatically fill in their FAFSA with relevant information from their previous year's tax return. Starting in January, select users who click on "Fill Out Your FAFSA" will be asked if they'd like to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to do so. From there, they can enter their Federal Student Aid PIN then be taken to the IRS website where they can retrieve their tax information and click "Transfer Now" to automatically fill in the applicable lines on the FAFSA form. Dependent students will have to repeat this process for their parents' information.

While it still involves multiple steps and websites, the new process is a significant improvement over the current process of hunting for your tax return, begging your parents for their tax returns, sorting through pages of numbers and instructions, and carefully transcribing numbers from one form to another each year. The Department of Education hopes that the more automated and streamlined FAFSA will reduce errors and encourage more students to apply for federal student financial aid.

Only a small group of students who are filing a FAFSA for the current academic year will see the new FAFSA completion options in January. The option will be available for all FAFSA filers for 2010-2011 in July. Although you may be stuck filling out your FAFSA the old way next year, you can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this will be the last time.

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FAFSA Available Starting Tomorrow, Jan. 1

December 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One of the most important steps you'll need to take in the financial aid application process is applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA Jan. 1 of each year, which just so happens to be tomorrow. So start your new year off right by filing that financial aid document, or filing a renewal FAFSA if this isn't your first time. State financial aid deadlines fall as early as February, so it's best to get a head start and know how much funding you can expect come next fall.

Both the FAFSA and renewal FAFSA are available online through Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you'll be receiving. Remember that it doesn't cost anything to fill out your FAFSA - the FAFSA is free - and some agencies will charge you for filling the application out for you. Once you complete the online form, you’ll be able to check its status, make any corrections as needed, and print your Student Aid Report once that is ready. (Your Student Aid Report summarizes what you've filled out on your FAFSA, and provides you with an Expected Family Contribution, or the total you and your family would be expected to come up with to fund your education.) If you aren’t comfortable filling out your FAFSA online, you can submit a paper form, but it does take longer to process than the online form.

In order to complete your FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • your bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • your records of untaxed income (if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2008 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA)
  • all of the above from your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • an electronic PIN to sign the form online

We have a number of resources available to those filling out their FAFSAs and preparing to apply for federal aid. Browse through our site so that you know exactly where to begin, what to expect, and how to file the application successfully, because if you do make mistakes you may delay the processing of your FAFSA. Happy New Year!

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FAFSA Moves Toward Simpler Form

January 5, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It's January, which means it's time to start thinking about completing a new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2010-2011 school year. This can be a long, complicated process for parents and students, but the Department of Education has begun taking steps to make the form easier to complete.

In a presentation to high school students and school counselors in Washington, DC today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials demonstrated the 2010 FAFSA, which went online January 1. While the paper form remains roughly the same length, at 107 questions, changes have been made to the online application to allow applicants to skip several questions that don't apply to them. A few other changes have also been made to make the website easier to navigate and the form easier to complete. These steps will hopefully speed up students' application processes and reduce confusion.

Progress is also being made on syncing the FAFSA and tax information from the IRS. In late 2009, the Department of Education announced that beginning in 2010, some students would be able to access a new tool that would allow them to import their 2008 tax information into a 2009-2010 FAFSA. The tool is expected to go live later this month, with work continuing on making the feature available to everyone.

According to Nextgov, one of the main barriers still remaining is a conflict between state FAFSA deadlines and the dates 2009 tax information will be available on the IRS website. Currently, previous year tax information goes online in the middle of the year, after many state deadlines have passed for FAFSA filing. The Department of Education and the IRS are working to find a solution to this problem to make the data transfer tool more widely useful. Other tweaks are likely to be made once the pilot program gets underway.

Legislation currently in Congress may further simplify the FAFSA by eliminating additional questions that many deem unnecessary. While the financial aid application process is likely to remain long and complicated for the foreseeable future, concrete steps are being taken to make it shorter and simpler, and it appears the movement is gaining momentum.

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Meet Scholarships.com's Virtual Interns: Mary Steffenhagen

July 31, 2013

Meet Scholarships.com's Virtual Interns: Mary Steffenhagen

by Mary Steffenhagen

Hey there, Scholarships.com readers! I’m Mary, a junior English major/business minor student at Concordia University of Wisconsin.

I’ll admit, I didn’t give my college search as much time or thought as I should have. I chose to attend Concordia for two main reasons: I was offered a substantial academic scholarship (and rather a lot of financial aid) and was able to take a free trip to London, Normandy and Paris through the honors program during my freshman year. However, my time at Concordia has been well spent as I have been able to take a number of fascinating classes with some exceptional professors, make a few lifelong friends, travel and even get some decent sleep.

I love having a busy schedule so this year I plan to intern in Milwaukee and hopefully (fingers crossed!) head to New York City in the winter. I've indulged myself a little with my English major – reading and being impacted by what I read has always been one of the best parts of my life – and I am looking forward to a career that not only allows but requires me to do just that.

The opportunity to be a virtual intern with Scholarships.com is one I couldn’t pass up: Not only is this the sort of writing experience necessary for my resume, but it’s a bit out of my comfort zone. I hope to challenge myself to be a resource to you readers and help bring some insight into the ordeals of life as a college student.

I’ll sign off with the most important thing college has helped me realize (so far): Challenge yourself and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish. Thanks for reading!

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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

August 28, 2013

Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.

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