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By Kelly Dyer November 16, 2012

Tax data simplified, but the FAFSA lives on

Anyone who has applied for college financial aid knows the daunting task of filling out the FAFSA, officially known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to simplify this process by allowing families to apply "simply by checking a box on their tax form."

Our last update found that the number of questions on the form were reduced to make it simpler, so let's see if Obama has made progress since then.

In the past, students (or more likely, their parents) had to manually enter complicated financial information. In February, 2012, the IRS unveiled an option that partially
allows parents and students to auto-fill the tax portion of the FAFSA the form directly from their previous year"s tax returns.

The only catch is that only 80% of users are eligible for this feature because you need the following:

  • A valid SSN
  • A filed tax return for the previous year
  • An unchanged marital status as of December 31 of the prior year  

Aside from that setback, the tool eliminates some of the guesswork that inevitably comes with such a long and complicated form.

We interviewed officials of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and found that there has been some progress in making the online application simpler as a result of increased "skip logic" which allows students to skip questions based on their previous answers.

So there's been substantial progress: a shorter form and single click option that transfers tax data directly from the IRS website to the FAFSA. But, Obama"s promise to eliminate the FAFSA completely hasn't been fulfilled.

We move this promise from In the Works to Compromise.

Our Sources

By Kevin Robillard January 21, 2010

A simpler form

In the hypercompetitive college admissions environment, the applications for getting into a university are hard enough. Applying for money to pay for it should be simpler. But the application for federal financial aid contained more than 100 questions, which many students found daunting.

Barack Obama promised to fix this during the campaign by introducing a new, simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more often called simply the FASFA. Every college student who wants some of the billions available in federal loans or grants each year needs to fill it out to see how much he or she is eligible for. About 20 million students -- or their parents -- fill out the form each year.

The new, simplified form debuted this month. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Jill Biden, a college professor and the wife of the vice president, promoted it at a Washington, D.C., high school. The new version doesn't dramatically cut back on the number of questions, but it eliminates 22 of them, according to the United States Students Association. It also doesn't require low-income students to answer questions that don't impact their eligibility, and makes the online format more user-friendly by skipping questions based on previous answers.

But this isn't yet a Promise Kept. Obama didn't just promise to simplify the form, he promised to enable "families to apply simply by checking a box on their tax form, authorizing their tax information to be used, and eliminating the need for a separate application." That larger goal hasn't been accomplished yet, so we're keeping this promise rated In the Works.

Our Sources

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan June 24, 2009

Obama administration unveils work on FAFSA simplification

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a plan to simplify the online form students fill out to apply for financial aid, known as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

"The debate about how to simplify FAFSA I think had been going on for over 20 years," Duncan said. "So this change is long, long overdue."

Next year, applicants should see a 20 percent reduction in the number of questions and a 50 percent cut in the number of Web pages to navigate, Duncan said.

"In the coming months, we will further modernize the online application by creating an easy process for students to apply by using data that the IRS already has," Duncan said.

The department also is seeking legislative changes so it can eliminate some questions from both the online form and the paper format.

We rate this promise In the Works.

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