This is the transcript for Episode 19 (May 29, 2018) of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah.

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.


Bryan: Thank you for joining us for the first season of Title IV + More, StepUp Utah’s podcast for counselors and educators. As you wrap up your school year, we want to share with you some of our favorite FAFSA Tips from this season’s episodes. And, as always, if you have additional questions about helping your students complete the FAFSA, our outreach team is available year-round. Please email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu or give us a call at 801-869-5701. Please enjoy this bonus episode of the Title IV + More podcast including the best of our FAFSA Tips of the Week. We’ll see you next school year.

Bryan: Tip #1 – Don’t leave money on the table.

Katie: For September, our theme is going to be how to create and manage an FSA ID, which is the username and password for filling out the FAFSA. So, next episode, we’ll start in on that. But for this week, the tip is really just talking about who should be filling out the FAFSA and that is everybody because American students leave over $2 billion in federal student aid on the table every year simply because they’re not filling out the FAFSA. So, anyone who is planning to attend a college, which, in our mind sometimes I think we get trapped into thinking that’s a 4-year school, but federal student aid can be used at any accredited school, from technical and vocational programs to a 4-year university. So if any students are thinking about going that route, they should apply. Even if they plan to serve a mission, or join the Peace Corps, or do military service first, we know that sometimes plans can change, so it’s good to have a backup solution if these students need it. Additionally, when they come back from that service, they can fill out a renewal FAFSA, which is a lot faster than doing the original one. And, remember, the 2018-19 FAFSA will be available starting October 1 this year. And, since colleges and universities have their own limited budgets for their institutional aid (not necessarily just the federal aid, but their own funds), they want to make sure, students want to make sure that they’re applying by the priority deadline of their college, which you can find in our College Guide that will be distributed soon, or you can order them online. You can also find it on the financial aid websites of any college and university. So, the sooner your students fill out this application, the better. And if you have any questions about the FAFSA, you can attend those Boot Camps we talked about or utilize any of our resources online. You can also always reach out to us on social media, email, or phone.”

Bryan: Tip #2 – Always use a permanent email address for the FSA ID.

Bryan: Alright, so this podcast’s FAFSA Tip of the Week is about the FSA ID. An important thing to remember when creating the FSA ID is that you should use a permanent email address. Lots of students and even parents sometimes use some temporary email addresses like school email addresses or college email addresses or a junk email address or something like that. And, this is a very important piece of information that you have to use year after year, the FSA ID that is. And if you ever forget it and need to access it again, it’s really important that it’s connected to a permanent email address so you can retrieve that information and, you know, reset that password if you need to and still be able to access the FAFSA.

Bryan: Tip #3 – The myth of making too much money and not filing the FAFSA as a result.

Jacob: Our October Tip of the Month theme is FAFSA Fears, Myths, and Urban Legends since it’s a Halloween theme. [Halloween music]. Oooooooo, spooky. Ok, so our first FAFSA fear, this is a tip that we’re going to give, this is our first one. We want to address the belief that a student shouldn’t file the FAFSA because their parents earn too much money. This is something that a lot of people say, we hear this very often. So people will say I don’t plan on filing the FAFSA because I won’t qualify for anything. I’ve heard this at multiple FAFSA Nights this week. So, 1 in 5 undergraduate students don’t fill out the FAFSA for this exact reason, that they don’t think they’re going to qualify for anything, which is literally why millions of dollars in financial aid get left on the table every year. And this is one reason why the federal Pell grant program, and we all know that grants are free money, has a $3.9 billion dollar surplus by 2017. Just to remind everyone, it’s always worth filing the FAFSA because almost everyone who files and is eligible to file, so if they’re a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen, they can qualify for some type of federal student aid. And it’s a good idea just to file to know what’s available for you because you might go in and think, “Oh, I make too much money or my parents make too much money”, but it’s always a good idea to file because, remember, you don’t have to take the aid that you’re offered. And you might qualify for things that you don’t even know about. So we always encourage people to apply because you never know what you will qualify for.

Bryan: Tip #4 – Custody vs. guardianship.

Bryan: So our FAFSA tip for this week is about custody and guardianship on the FASFA. Custody is not guardianship on the FAFSA. If the student is currently in a legal guardianship or was in a legal guardianship immediately before turning 18, that student is considered independent on the FAFSA and does not have to provide financial data for either their parents or their legal guardian. However, court papers must clearly state “guardianship” in order for the student to answer yes to that question, and that’s question #9 on the FAFSA. If the student is just living with someone other than their parents, they will still be required to provide that parental information. And the guardianship and figuring out who’s the parent can be a very tricky thing on the FAFSA. We have extra resources having to do with that in our DIY Kit and on our blog at StepUpUtah.com/Blog. You’re always welcome to reach out to us too if you have any particularly tricky questions having to do with guardianship or dependency on the FAFSA. So just please reach out to us if you have any questions.

Bryan: Tip #5 – Reporting assets.

Jacob: Remember that our tip of the month theme was financial data sections on the FAFSA. A common question we get is determining the total value of assets. The FAFSA asks for total balances of cash, savings, and checking, as well as the value of real estate and owning a business. There are some important nuances to these questions and I’ve worked with a lot of students and parents who sometimes assume something about their assets rather than reading carefully, so this is something really good to keep in mind.  Students and parents should not include the value of their retirement plans (like 401[k], or pensions, annuities, and non-education IRAs) the home they live in, the vehicles they use for everyday transportation, a farm that they live on and operate, or a family business with 99 or fewer full-time employees. So, this leads to the question – what is included in the assets? So this is things like, rental or income properties, trust funds, money market funds, mutual funds, CDs, individual brokerage accounts, 529s as well. So if you need clarification on exactly what is included, you can check the help and hints box on the right hand side of the FAFSA. The other thing to keep in mind that is that often times it will calculate these amounts for you automatically. So it will say, “Does your balance of cash, savings, and checking exceed this amount?” If it does exceed that amount, including the things that I mentioned, then you’ll be asked to break it down into those three sections. Anything else you want to add about that, Katie?

Katie: No , I’m just sure that there are countless students who miss out on Pell money because they’re over reporting assets that just don’t need to be included on the FAFSA. I know it’s a common misconception that, yea, we have to count the value of our house, the value of our car, the value of our retirement plan. But you really don’t. And the federal government wants you to secure housing and plan for retirement, so that’s why it doesn’t ask to include those assets that the family owns.

Jacob: Most families that I’ve encountered – there are exceptions, obviously – most families, what that ends up being honestly is cash, saving, and checking because a lot of people don’t own stocks and bonds outside their 401(k). So yea, just make sure you’re careful in reporting that. Like Katie said, you could be missing out on some of that money.

Bryan: Tip #6 – How to know if a student was selected for verification

Katie: Our tip of the week theme for the month of March is verification. And the reason behind that is this is the time of year that colleges really start to select students for verification after they start to look at their FAFSAs. And I know from experience that we’re getting more and more calls about this from counselors, so I think it’s a really timely subject to be addressing. So our first tip this month is what is verification and how do you know if your student has been selected? This gets complicated because different colleges handle verification a little bit differently. Some schools will randomly select particular students for verification, other schools might verify every single student’s FAFSA – I don’t know that that’s very common because that’s a bureaucratic headache I’m sure and a lot of resources and time for the financial aid office, but some of them do choose to do that. And still other schools will select a student for verification only if they find some sort of conflicting information or they feel that additional documents are necessary to clarify what the student reported on the FAFSA. No matter what method the student’s institution uses, it’s important to try to be as accurate as possible the first time around when you’re filing the FAFSA with your student. The important thing to remind them that, even if they are selected for verification, that doesn’t mean that they’re in trouble. It just means that they need to follow up with their financial aid office at their college or university to follow the instructions that they’re given by the financial aid office. There are several ways that you will know if a student’s FAFSA has been selected for verification. First up, if the student filed their FAFSA online, they can log into the FAFSA at FAFSA.gov to look at their Student Aid Report or their “SAR”. So if they’re missing any information that the federal government has flagged, it will let them know in their Student Aid Report. And then if the college specifically has selected the student for verification, they will most likely inform the student through their email inbox or their student portal…a lot less commonly by mail, but that might happen, as well. Jacob, I know that we’ve had a couple of calls come in about verification. Is there anything that you would add to encourage counselors to try to go through this process with the student?

Jacob: So one thing that I will say is that this is also the time of year where a lot of students will do their FAFSA. One good tip to avoid verification in the first place is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool if they are eligible to make sure they are importing their taxes directly from the IRS. That makes them much less likely to be selected for verification. And we also see a lot of students who get discouraged by the verification process itself when it does come around. We really encourage counselors to just work with those students who have been selected for verification to just get the documents that are necessary. A lot of times it’s an IRS tax transcript or just some documentation that students might not be familiar with – or sometimes even counselors. If you have questions about verification, really, please reach out to us. We’re really here to help because this can often be a barrier that means students don’t end up enrolling in college in the fall.

Katie: Exactly. There is one other resource I forgot to mention and that is our FAFSA Data Site. For those of you who may not be familiar with this, UHEAA gets the FAFSA completion numbers and information directly from the Department of Education and we’re the entity in the state that houses all that completion data all the way down to individual student levels. So we have a website where counselors can log in and see a list of students, seniors specifically, who have A) completed the FAFSA, and B) whether or not that student’s FAFSA has been selected for verification. Now, we did have quite a few hiccups with that FAFSA data site this year as many of you know if you are already a data steward. Our IT department had to work really hard and spend a lot of time getting this up to the security standards that the Department of Education enforces. But I am proud to say, I’m happy to report, that we did meet those security requirements, IT is done, and your individual student-level data is now available as of about last week. So if you have any issues logging in, let us know, but that is a really good resource to find out if your students are undergoing a verification process or not.

Jacob: And we encourage you to reach out to those students who have been selected for verification because a lot of times if they don’t know they can’t do anything about it. Sometimes maybe they miss the email or something and you hate to have them get to school in the fall and if they are Pell grant eligible or they have other kinds of aid that they’re relying on, it’d be terrible to have to go through that process later in the year rather than earlier because it’s just good to get it done so when they get there in the fall, they’re good to go.

Bryan: And finally, tip #7 – The process of claiming your financial aid.

Jacob: Awesome. It’s getting to be the end of the school year, so for a lot of student’s they’re starting to think about the fall already, which is really hard for me to believe. But this is a pretty common question that we get from counselors because we put a lot of push on FAFSA completion, but there’s some steps sometimes after the FAFSA in terms of getting their financial aid. Some counselors and educators and mentors will ask, “My student has completed a FAFSA. Now how do they actually receive their financial aid?” So there are a few steps that your students may or may not have already taken that they’ll need to take in order to be ready to enroll in the fall and receive that financial aid that they’ve already applied for. First of all, students must be admitted to a college that is eligible to distribute Title IV funds and they have to list that college on their FAFSA. So, after they’ve done that, they have to fill out and return the college’s financial aid award letter. This is the document in which the student lets the college know what aid they want to accept and what aid they want to decline. So, for example, if the student is offered federal student loans, and they don’t want to take the full loan amount, they would indicate that in the document. If they decide that they do want to take federal student loans and this is their first semester in college, they will have some additional steps, as well. Usually they’ll have to sign what’s called a Master Promissory Note in which they say, “Yes, I know I’m taking out loans and I will have to pay these loans back.” They’ll also have to do entrance counseling through Federal Student Aid, which will outline borrowing responsibly, and also kind of the terms and conditions of the federal student loans that they are taking out. The third step is kind of an obvious one, but it’s also very important – the student must enroll in classes in order to be able to receive their federal financial aid. Finally, what will happen is that the financial aid is deposited directly into the student’s account at school. After their cost of attendance is covered – so things like tuition – any money that is left over will be refunded directly to the student. So it’s usually that simple unless the student has been selected for verification, which we have talked about in other tips. And if your student has questions or concerns about their award, or they’re wondering what they should do, it’s best to call the financial aid office as early as possible so that they can have that money ready for them in the fall because they’re processing a lot of financial aid and so the earlier the student reaches out, the more likely they are to be ready for the fall in terms of that.

Bryan: Thanks for listening to this bonus episode of the Title IV + More podcast including the best of our FAFSA Tips for the 2017-18 school year. We hope to have you back with us next year. See ya.


Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on iTunes

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on SoundCloud

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on Google Play

Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.