Tearing your hair out trying to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid before the June 30 deadline?
You're not alone.
Security changes implemented by the federal government are creating challenges for students and parents.
The change: families must now create an FSA ID, instead of using a four-digit personal identification number for online access to the FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education replaced the PIN with the new FSA ID to reduce the chances of fraud and abuse by protecting sensitive financial information.
Setting up the new log-in takes longer than before. Both students and parents have to establish their own IDs by providing Social Security numbers, choosing a significant date other than their birthday and setting up security questions to answer later if they can't remember their password.
Avoid one of the biggest problems parents are having with one tip from Julie Wilson, associate director of client services in the CMU Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid: Make sure your student signs up for their own FSA ID. Don't do it for them.
The system is designed for parents and students to each set up their own IDs.
"When parents sign up for their own ID and their student's, parents get the information mixed up," Wilson says. "They may type in their own social security number when they're supposed to type in their student's. After so many tries, you'll get locked out.
"We've had quite a few calls from parents who are having trouble with it," Wilson says. "It always takes some time getting used to a new way of doing things."
While some parents are struggling, the new system is working — nearly 28 million users have created a FSA ID, the Department of Education reports. The government and colleges use the FAFSA to determine need-based and some merit-based financial aid, so it's a crucial process for students who need help paying for school.
Wilson's advice: sign up for your FSA ID now, so you have some wiggle room if there are problems.
"Do it today, so that when you're ready to do your FAFSA, you're all set," she says. "If you wait until it's time to do your FAFSA, and you have problems, you'll be upset that your ID isn't working, plus you'll be upset that your FAFSA will be late."
Although students have until the summer to fill out the FAFSA, turning in the form early increases the chances of qualifying for an aid package.
Questions? Call Wilson's office at 888-392-0007, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the U.S. Department of Education site.