It’s time to think about financial aid

By Linsey Christie

For most of us, Oct. 1 means the changing of seasons, pumpkin spice, and Halloween. For high school seniors, Oct. 1 also means it’s time to begin filling out college applications and applying for financial aid. The 2019-2020 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) became available on Oct. 1 and can be completed online at fafsa.gov.

The FAFSA can be an overwhelming task especially for those who are not familiar with income taxes, who have unique circumstances, or who are not comfortable using technology. Every year changes are made to simplify the FAFSA to make it more user-friendly. This year, the FAFSA website has a whole new look, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is fully functioning, and the myStudentAid app was released for iOS and Android.

In July, the FAFSA website underwent a makeover and has a new look that is more up-to-date and the questions are displayed in a simplified manner. Instead of asking several question per page, the questions are generally displayed one-by-one in sections. This helps avoid skipping a question or getting the questions confused. If the applicant is unsure where to find an answer, there is a “tool tips” box that provides answers to each question. The FAFSA website is now mobile friendly and the pages will fit the size and shape of all devices including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Even the Financial Information section has been simplified through the use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

For income tax filers, the FAFSA encourages the use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This is a button the tax-filer clicks to link to the IRS and transfer income tax information directly to the FAFSA. The successful use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool means the income information is correct and in the event the FAFSA is selected for verification, the school is less likely to request income tax information from that student/parent. Over the last two years, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool has experienced issues which caused it to become disabled for periods of time. While this tool has been around for a few years, for the 2019-2020 FAFSA cycle, we have been assured the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be fully functioning.

Perhaps, the most exciting enhancement to the FAFSA was the release of the myStudentAid app for iOS and Android. The myStudentAid app allows students to fill out the entire FAFSA via an app on their smartphone. The FAFSA is customized based on the user role, student or parent. The student can login, complete the FAFSA, and sign it. For dependent students, after the student has signed the FAFSA, the parent must then login separately and sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID. The myStudentAid app is secure and allows tax-filers to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The app also provides general information about student aid and the FSA ID, a link to myFederalLoans which allows students to view their own student loan history, and a link to the myCollegeScorecard which allows students to compare schools.

The 2019-2020 FAFSA became available on October 1 and will use 2017 income information. Students can include up to 10 schools on the FAFSA, so even if the student is not sure what college they will be attending they can still get an early start on applying for financial aid by listing all schools they are interested in. Some schools have FAFSA deadlines, so it is important to fill out the FAFSA early and to check with each school to see what their deadline is. Iowa Central has a priority deadline of March 1, 2019, however students can still receive financial aid if the FAFSA is completed after that deadline. For Iowa residents, the deadline to receive aid through the state of Iowa is June 30, 2019.

While filling out the FAFSA can be a tedious process, most students can’t afford to attend college without it. Make sure to fill out the FAFSA early and hopefully the FAFSA enhancements will make the process a little easier. As always, Iowa Central Community College has a knowledgeable financial aid staff who is here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us with FAFSA and financial aid questions. We will be hosting a FAFSA Ready Iowa Event on November 14 from 4:00-7:00 in the Student Support Services building. Our staff will be available to provide assistance to students and families completing the FAFSA, no appointment needed.

Linsey Christie is financial aid director at Iowa Central Community College.

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