Jason Flurry, CFP
Understanding the FSA ID
What they are and why you need one
You probably haven’t thought about it in a while, but we are definitely living in the digital age. More than ever we’re able to do things online that used to have to be done in person. Just look around at how you operate throughout a typical day and think back to how you handled many of those same tasks 3 years ago, 5 years – or if they were even possible back then. We’ve come a long way in a hurry, but the wheels often turn a little slower than normal when you are dealing with the federal government. Fortunately, the Department of Education is on the ball when it comes to using online verification for several key areas within the financial aid system. And one of those areas is call the FSA ID.
In this article I’m going to help you understand what the FSA ID is, show you how you can get one, and most importantly, show you how to use it to get through financial aid season more easily.
First let’s talk about what the FSA ID is. It’s basically your online identity or virtual signature when it comes to the federal student aid system. After all, that’s what the FSA in FSA ID stands for – Federal Student Aid. And since it’s your ID, you can use it to authorize access on official matters involving a variety of financial areas, like linking your tax returns to your financial aid forms, submitting financial aid forms, and accepting student loans.
The FSA ID is the most secure way they’ve ever used to verify your identity and to allow you to submit things online. To help make it unique to you, they require you to provide some unique identifying information when you sign up for your FSA ID, like your date of birth, social security number, address, and phone number. You also have to provide an email address they can send a confirmation code to when you are completing the registration process. There are also a series of security questions for you to select and answer in case you need to retrieve your username or reset your password at any point.
You can check all of this these items on your own or register yourself to get your FSA ID here. I created a video you can use as a guide to setting up your FSA ID too. You can find it here. It will help you make quick work of creating your FSA ID.
There are a couple of other things you need to be aware of with your FSA ID. The first is the email verification code they will send you when you’re creating your ID. Most parents create one for their student and then create one for themselves, since both the student and the parent need their own FSA ID. Don’t gloss over that point. You both need to have one to complete several steps in the financial aid process.
But back to the email point… You can only use an email address one time when creating your FSA ID. If you’re setting one up for your student but using your email address, you’ll need another different personal email address when creating yours. If you use your email address for theirs and their email address for yours…well, it can all get a little complicated down the road. Choose your email accounts up front so you don’t get crossed up later.
The other thing to note is that if you attempt to use your FSA ID and enter in the wrong information too many times, the system will lock you out of your account. It’s not a major problem, but in order to unlock it you will need to have access to the email address you used to when you created it, which is why it helps to have the right address attached to the right person. You can also unlock it with the answers your security questions, which can be the same for multiple people – you just can’t share email addresses with anyone else.
Using your FSA ID like a pro You now know how to set your FSA ID up and how to navigate around some of the common pitfalls people run into when creating their ID’s. Now let’s talk about how you will use your FSA ID to make the financial aid process easier to manage.
The first place people usually use their FSA ID is to log into FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application For Federal Student Aid and it’s the most commonly used financial aid form you’ll deal with if you’re going to be applying for any kind of financial aid. I’ll be talking more about FAFSA in upcoming articles, but for now, just remember that this is your key to unlock and access the form. You can also access it with a student’s date of birth and social security number, but you won’t be able to submit anything without the FSA ID. So you might as well use it from the start.
Once you’re in the FAFSA form, you’ll see a place where you can download information from your tax return directly from the IRS. This IRS Data Retrieval Tool uses your FSA ID, both for parents’ returns and for student’s returns, to verify your identity and give you access to their system. You’ll type in your FSA ID to unlock that portion of the form and have them import your tax info directly into the blanks for you. The process also verifies that your tax information is correct, since the federal form you are completing will trust that the information another federal agency is sharing with them is accurate. That can save you a lot of time and headache later, so use it whenever possible.
The third place you’ll use your FSA ID is at the end of your FAFSA. There is a place to accept their terms and conditions and sign before you submit the form and your FSA ID is your signature in this spot. If you’ve used your FSA ID to login at the beginning or download tax info from the IRS’s site previously in the form, you won’t have to enter it in again here. But if not, the system will prompt you for it before you can submit anything to them.
Finally, the last place you’ll usually see your FSA ID come into play is with the student loan system. It’s your userid and password when you are logging into the site that hosts loan entrance counseling programs, master promissory note agreements, and other federal loan-related information. If you’re not planning to use student loans, this part won’t apply to you, but if you do, it may have been a while since you used your FSA ID when you get to this part. Jot it down some place that’s secure and remember the email and security questions you used up front in case you need to reset your password. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting locked out and not knowing how to reset everything!
The FSA ID isn’t a perfect way to protect your security in every situation, but it is far better than the older system of PIN numbers they used to use. By understanding what I’ve taught you here, you’ll be able to save yourself hours of wasted time and frustration and get your financial aid forms processed quicker, hopefully resulting in you getting the most money possible from the colleges on your students’ lists.
Coming soon This is only the beginning. We’re going to be talking about a lot more related to financial aid in the few articles. You may not be ready to file everything yet, but subscribe to this blog, mark articles like this as favorites, and go back to them later so you don’t miss anything important or make mistakes that could cost you thousands. It won’t always be easy, but with me in your corner, it shouldn’t be stressful.
Stay tuned and share us with your friends who are in the same boat – worried about college and how to make things more affordable. Not only will I show you how to make it happen, I’ll also show you how you can enjoy the journey and get the best results possible.
Now go get your FSA ID set up. I’ll see you again soon.