Modifications made by the U.S. Department of Education this year make it imperative that students complete their 2011 taxes early so they can take advantage of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool when filing their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
"This is the first year that the Department of Education is really pushing for students and parents to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool," said Carrie Dempsey, assistant director of financial aid at MCLA (pictured at right, above). "The biggest advantage is that, because it's using real, accurate information from the IRS, the student is less likely to be selected for verification from the Department of Education, if they need more information from them," Dempsey said.
By contrast, those who do not use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool have a high probability that that they will be selected for verification, Dempsey explained.
In addition, the biggest change for 2012 is that schools no longer will accept copies of 1040 tax return forms, according to a new federal regulation.
"So, if a student is selected for verification, they can't send us a copy of the tax return. What they have to do is actually call, go online, or by paper request an IRS tax transcript," Dempsey explained. "So, if they file their taxes electronically and are selected for verification, they can go back into the FAFSA and make a correction to that FAFSA using the data retrieval tool. They way, they don't have to request the transcript."
To help students and their parents with questions they may have and to assist them in filling out the FAFSA form, MCLA's financial aid office will hold a free FAFSA workshop, which is free and open to the public.
Held in conjunction with officials from the financial aid office at Williams College on Monday, Jan. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m., on the MCLA campus in 108 Murdock Hall, which is a computer lab.
The FAFSA form is required to determine the student and his or her parents' expected family contribution to the cost of their education. "It's the tool the schools use to determine what financial aid the student can receive," Dempsey said.
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will make completing the income section of the FAFSA easier. It allows a student's FAFSA information to be linked directly to the IRS and populates the information right on to the FAFSA form, according to Dempsey.
"They can use that about a week or two after they've filed their taxes electronically. So, even if they file their FAFSA early, they can go back in a make any necessary corrections using that data retrieval tool," she said.
Students and parents should file their federal tax returns as soon as possible in 2012.
"A number of students don't complete their FAFSA until later, and then they're searching for money because we no longer have the funds available to keep giving out the full awards they qualify for," Dempsey said.
MCLA officials encourage students to complete their FAFSA by early February to ensure that they don't miss out on funding. The FAFSA priority deadline is March 1.
MCLA's financial aid application will be available on Dec. 15 at www.mcla.edu/aid . FAFSA forms for the 2012-13 school year will be available this Jan. 1.