By Luke B. Hoey
How can a school make the verification process easier for itself and its students? I am going to outline a few options for you. Now, these are just ideas; each school is different, so it makes sense that their processes would not be identical. In the same way, every student’s FAFSA is different, so requiring everyone who’s been selected to verify the same list of items is illogical. This is why ED is continuing to move towards a customized approach to verification; establishing different Tracking Groups into which students may be placed.
Before we get started, a quick note on Tracking Groups: You’ve heard that Tracking Group V2 will no longer be used for 2014-15. ED determined that it was not worth keeping a Tracking Group dedicated solely to the receipt of SNAP benefits. The receipt of SNAP will still be verified in V1, V4, V5, and now V6. Tracking Group V6 is new for this year, and because it is new, ED stated that you probably will not see too many instances of it (EA posted 11/8/13). Students in V6 must verify the same items from V1—Standard Verification, as well as the rest of the Untaxed Income items from the FAFSA. There are a few other things to be aware of for V6, so be sure to review the specifics of it on your own.
Also found in the EA posted 11/8/13 is the suggested text for 2014-15 verification. If you’ve seen it, you know that the suggested text for the new Other Untaxed Income section is 2 ½ pages long. Considering all of the possible variations on verification, it no longer makes sense to use one, all-encompassing Verification Worksheet. If you were to include every item that a dependent student could possibly be required to verify in V1-V6 on one document, it would be nearly 10 pages long. With that being said, I suggest looking into ways to make your Verification Worksheets shorter. Consider developing your own text for each verification requirement. Keep in mind that what ED offers is simply suggested text. If there are areas where you think you can be more concise—creating a simpler process while still covering all required items—you have the freedom to format your own Verification Worksheets. The only exception is with the “Statement of Educational Purpose” that is part of Tracking Groups V4 and V5. You must use the exact text that ED has provided for that.
Another way to shorten your Verification Worksheets is to examine each student’s ISIR and determine if everything included in their Verification Tracking Group actually needs to be verified. Both the receipt of SNAP benefits and the amount of child support paid require verification in Tracking Groups V1, V4, V5, and V6. These items, however, only need to be verified if a student indicates on their FAFSA that they received SNAP benefits and/or paid child support. So you still need to check a student’s ISIR for these items, but it is not necessary to include them on a Verification Worksheet if child support was not paid or if SNAP benefits were not received. Similarly, there are certain scenarios where you do not have to verify a student’s household size or number in college. The Application and Verification Guide states that you do not have to verify household size for a dependent student when their reported household size is two with a single, divorced, separated, or widowed parent, or when the household size is three with parents who are married or are unmarried and living together. You do not have to verify household size for an independent student when their reported household size is two if they are married or one if they are single, divorced, etc. You do not have to verify the number in college if the amount listed on the ISIR is one. I recommend a thorough examination of the AVG for 2014-15 and the EA posted 11/8/13 before updating any of your processes.
You may have heard that there is a new way for students to order and receive Tax Return Transcripts. The IRS has created the “Get Transcript Online” tool, which will allow a person to receive Tax Transcripts in PDF format. Students will first have to create an account on irs.gov before they’re able to use this feature, but overall, it appears to be a much more efficient way to obtain the tax information needed for verification. I suggest that you review GEN-14-05 or go directly to irs.gov to become more familiar with this new option.
Finally, if a transfer student has already completed verification for the current award year at their previous school, you do not need to have them repeat the process. Instead, you may verify with the previous school that the student’s FAFSA data has not changed. You’d need a letter from the school stating that verification was completed, and the letter should also indicate what the transaction number was on the student’s pertinent valid ISIR. If there is a school that your students tend to transfer to or from, you might consider discussing this option with them. This would obviously require some level of teamwork between you and what you might consider a competitor, but it could also significantly cut down on the time it takes you to complete verification.
Volume 1, Issue 2