Changes to FAFSA form affect students, university

The U.S. Department of Education has made changes to the way the FAFSA for the 2012-2013 school year is processed, adding extra work for students. Students who do not file the FAFSA On The Web in the encouraged manner will likely have to contact the IRS for tax verification.

Amanda Sharp, associate director of student financial services, encourages students to use the IRS data retrieval process to directly provide FAFSA answers from official tax documents. Students have the option to enter the information manually, but it is strongly discouraged.

Entering the data manually drastically increases the chances of being selected for tax verification, according to Sharp. Under the new FAFSA guidelines, tax transcripts must now be obtained directly from the IRS. Accountant transcripts will no longer be accepted. If selected for verification, students must contact the IRS to request an official transcript and wait for it to be mailed before turning the document into the university. It may take up to 16 days for students to receive the transcript.

“We just want to get the information out,” Sharp said. “Every school in the country has to do this, not just UNA.”

The IRS may have to provide transcripts for thousands of students, a workload they may not be prepared to undertake, she said.

“Once the forms have been submitted, our hands are tied,” Sharp said.

Sharp strongly encourages students to contact student financial services about any questions that they may have before filing.

“We have computers in the office for students and parents to use while filing,” she said. “That way they can get help if they get stuck.”

Deb Bailey, a graduating senior, has had to provide tax verification every year.

“The data retrieval makes sense to me, especially if it reduces my chances of being selected for verification,” she said. “It makes it all the more complicated to go through the IRS for verification when I need to file with my parents’ taxes but I don’t live with them.”

Bailey said the request for tax verification has come late in years past. Waiting for an IRS transcript will add to the time needed for verification.

The data retrieval process has been available before this year, but it has never before been so essential to stress-free filing.

A statement from the Department of Education said applicants who do not use the data retrieval process will need to explain to their institution why the information they provided is more accurate than the information that would have been obtained directly from the IRS.

Students who need assistance or have any questions can contact student financial services at 256-765-4278.