Students stunned by temporary FAFSA aid removal

Photo illustration. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

Some students with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) discrepancies are having their financial aid temporarily removed from their accounts for the current semester. This is because of discrepancies on their 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSA’s because they were being filed using a 2015 tax return.

“When we detect a discrepancy on the FAFSA, the financial aid on a student’s account is temporarily backed off until we resolve the mismatch,” said Amine Qourzal, associate director of counseling for the Baylor student financial aid office.

Prior-Prior Year is part of a FAFSA rule change that will allow students to file FAFSA in October rather than January, using tax information from two years prior to the year the FAFSA is filed, according to the U.S. Department of Education office of Federal Student Aid. Because this is the first year of the program, 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSA’s are both filed using 2015 tax returns, Qourzal said.

Any discrepancies between a student’s 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSA, based on the information from their 2015 tax information, will result in their financial aid being temporarily removed for the current semester until the financial aid office is informed of the most accurate tax information, Qourzal said. This is to ensure that a student is being awarded the correct amount of financial aid, he said.

“If there is a discrepancy (a typo or miscalculation) on one of the FAFSAs, the Financial Aid Office is required [by the U.S. Department of Education] to resolve the discrepancy before awarding/disbursing financial aid,” Qourzal said.

Two weeks ago, Austin junior Hannah Neumann checked her e-bill account to find a balance numbering in the thousands, she said. She was informed by the cashier’s office that her financial aid had been reversed because her tax information needed to be verified, Neumann said. The financial aid office informed her that she needed to submit documentation to the financial aid office, including a form detailing her 2015 tax information signed by a parent, Neumann said.

“I called to make sure that I had accurately registered for summer, and they said, ‘Oh, we haven’t sent out bills for fall or summer yet,’ and then I got really nervous because I was thinking, ‘Well what do I owe this much money for then?’” Neumann said.

A student having their aid temporarily removed results in a balance on their e-bill account for the amount the financial aid would cover, said J.T. Lloyd, assistant vice president for student accounts and cashier services. In this case, a student would receive an email from the cashier’s office informing them that they needed to provide the financial aid office with the correct information, Lloyd said.

The creation of Prior-Prior Year is unconnected with FAFSA’s online data retrieval tool being closed due to security concerns, Qourzal said, and students who have used the online tool were much less likely to have their aid temporarily removed because the data retrieval tool imports tax information directly to the FAFSA.

This process is also unconnected to FAFSA verification, which is used to audit the accuracy of FAFSA and can be initiated by Baylor or the U.S. Department of Education.

This is not an issue that would affect graduating seniors, since the temporary removal of financial aid is a result of filing a FAFSA for the upcoming academic year, Lloyd said.

Lloyd also said that because the financial aid office is required by the U.S. Department of Education to resolve any discrepancies before awarding or disbursing financial aid, a student is not eligible for financial aid until those discrepancies are clarified.

“The circumstances are unique this year because we have two aid years relying on the same tax information, but there hasn’t been a change in policy regarding how students are expected to repay balances owed,” Lloyd said.

This problem is not only affecting Baylor students. Students at UT Austin are also being asked to verify their tax information because of discrepancies on their 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSA’s, a representative for their financial aid office said.

Lloyd also said this is the first and only year that two FAFSAs will be completed using the same tax information. This transitional year where two FAFSAs are using the same tax information has resulted in discrepancies that students need to resolve, Lloyd said.

“We have been working with students during early registration if a discrepancy resulted in a balance owed, allowing students to get registered as long as they are working on providing the necessary information to the Student Financial Aid Office,” Lloyd said.

To correct any discrepancies on a FAFSA, a student has to submit a signed document acknowledging what the correct information is, and financial aid will be reinstated, Qourzal said.

Students that have experienced a discrepancy on their FAFSA can contact the student financial aid office for assistance.