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A simplified FAFSA may be less of a hassle for college students

When USF graduate Michael Voisard attempted to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the lengthy process dissuaded him from using it as a way to pay for school.

In an attempt to prevent that from happening to other students, the Department of Education (DOE) announced plans June 24 to simplify the FAFSA, the application used for all federal and state student loans.

Voisard said he tried to fill out the FAFSA, but the process was so “laborious” he never finished filing.

“I didn’t have access to the information they were asking for,” he said. “Taxes are the most confusing part for me. I hate filling out taxes.”

Voisard said being able to retrieve the needed tax information easily online would help push him to file the FAFSA.

In the simplified version, students will have the option to grant the DOE permission to retrieve tax information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), said Billie Jo Hamilton, USF director of Financial Aid.

Students will still have the option to fill out tax information on their own.

Ashlea Archer, a senior majoring in pre-med, said she has her mom fill out the FAFSA because it’s so “overwhelming.”

“I know people that are very intimidated by the FAFSA,” she said. “It takes them days to fill it out, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Hamilton said changes to the FAFSA still have to be approved by Congress. If approved, they could go into effect as early as 2010-11.

“The Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) is proposing a ‘marriage’ between the DOE and the IRS,” Hamilton said. “As a result of that union, we’ll be able to simplify (FAFSA)
filing for families.”

The required tax information will also change. Hamilton said the FAFSA will be based on taxes from the government, and students will no longer be asked to provide asset
information.

“Right now, (FAFSA) is based on taxes, savings, checking and businesses,” she said. “Now, it will be based on income – period.”

This change could let people who have large amounts of assets qualify, Hamilton said.

“Some people who never would have qualified under the old FAFSA form may get aid,” she said.

A small percentage of students fall into the category of having very low income but significant assets, Hamilton said.

“So 1 to 2 percent of (students) will get money that shouldn’t,” she said.

If a family has a drop in income, then Financial Aid has the power to re-evaluate the student’s income information, Hamilton said.

Such students will need to file a “change of circumstance” form, and Financial Aid will make adjustments according to the new projected family income, she said.

Other plans for simplifying the FAFSA include a shorter and simpler online application, and the elimination of some questions.

The simplified version will have 22 fewer questions – a 28 percent reduction,
according to a DOE statement. Also, some questions that are irrelevant to particular students may be skipped.

Questions concerning a student’s dependency and demographics will remain,
Hamilton said.

During the 2007-08 school year, 76 percent of USF students were on some type of financial aid, Hamilton said in an e-mail to the Oracle. Those students received more than $289 million in financial aid.

Hamilton said the simplification of the FAFSA will save students, families and Financial Aid a lot of work.

“We don’t know how many (students) didn’t get here because they hit that stumbling block of filling out the FAFSA,” she said.