Posted Date: July 18, 2014

Author:  Jeff Baker, Director, Policy Liaison and Implementation, Federal Student Aid

Subject: FAFSA Filers Under the Age of 13

We have been contacted by a small number of institutions asking whether students under the age of 13 who are otherwise eligible can apply for and receive Title IV, HEA program assistance. This electronic announcement responds to those questions.

While the statutory and regulatory provisions for the Title IV programs include a number of student eligibility provisions that may be indirectly related to the age of the applicant (e.g., requirement for a high school diploma, prohibition against a student being enrolled in primary or secondary school), neither the law nor the regulations include a specific age requirement for receipt of Title IV, HEA program assistance. Therefore, a student of any age who is otherwise eligible may apply for and receive Title IV aid. However, provisions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998, require special procedures for very young applicants.

The COPPA generally prohibits any entity, including a government agency, from conducting any business or communication electronically with a person under age 13. Thus, given the requirements of COPPA, for an applicant under the age of 13, the Department will not permit completion of a FAFSA using FAFSA on the Web (FOTW), nor will the Department communicate electronically with such a student, even if parental approval is obtained.

To ensure compliance with the COPPA, the FOTW process includes edits that block the submission of a FAFSA when the applicant’s reported birth date indicates that the applicant is under age 13. And, for technical reasons a regular paper FAFSA that is submitted for an applicant who is under age 13 will be immediately rejected. However, as noted above, since these students are eligible to apply for Federal student assistance, beginning with the 2014-2015 FAFSA we have developed a process that allows them to submit a paper COPPA Compliant Special Handling FAFSA for special processing, which will produce ISIRs that will be transmitted to institutions and states.

The FAFSA Application Process for Applicants Under Age 13

When a person under the age of 13 wishes to apply for financial aid, his or her parent or legal guardian, financial aid administrator, or high school counselor must request a COPPA Compliant Special Handling FAFSA by contacting the Department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office at 1-202-377-3889 or by sending an email to Lisa.D.Washington@ed.gov. FSA will mail a COPPA Compliant Special Handling FAFSA, along with a specially addressed envelope to the address of the parent or legal guardian, as provided in the request. Note that the COPPA Compliant Special Handling FAFSA will only be mailed to the applicant’s parent or guardian. Pursuant to the COPPA, the paper COPPA Compliant Special Handling FAFSA does not allow the student to provide an email address, thus ensuring that the Department does not communicate electronically with the underage applicant.

After receipt and processing of the COPPA Compliant Special Handling FAFSA, results are reported to the institutions (and state) using the regular ISIR process. The applicant will receive a paper Student Aid Report (SAR) that, if necessary, could be used to submit corrections. Once the applicant’s institution has received the ISIR, it could submit any required corrections using FAA Access to the CPS Online. Of course, in order to ensure COPPA compliance, the FAA should not add an email address for the underage applicant as part of the correction process. Finally, for the same reason, an applicant who is under the age of 13 cannot obtain an ED PIN for electronic services from the Department.

Additional Information that Institutions Should Consider

There is no minimum age that applies to a student’s receipt of a Federal Direct Loan or a Federal Perkins Loan. Both programs have provisions that exclude a “defense of infancy” for enforcement of the future obligation to repay. However, we suggest that very young applicants and their parents be counseled extensively about a borrower’s obligations and responsibilities, including the fact that the student will not be able to avoid responsibility for repayment because of age. Consistent with the COPPA, an underage student seeking a Federal Direct Loan or a Federal Perkins Loan must complete and sign a paper Master Promissory Note (MPN) and may not use an electronic note since, as noted, these students may not conduct business electronically.

Institutions are reminded that, as provided with more detail in Dear Colleague Letter GEN-11-07 (published March 22, 2011), an institution may not refuse to certify a Direct Loan for an otherwise eligible student on any across-the-board or categorical basis, including a category based solely on the student’s age. However, a financial aid administrator (FAA) may exercise his or her professional judgment to refuse to certify a loan. If the FAA refuses to certify a loan, he or she must do it on a case-by-case basis, the decision must be provided to the student in writing, and the institution must maintain documentation supporting the decision to deny the loan.

As noted, we encourage institutions to provide extensive loan counseling to very young students who express an interest in obtaining a Direct or Perkins loan. If during that counseling the student indicates that he or she does not understand what a loan is, does not plan to repay the loan, or does not know if he or she will be able to repay the loan, the institution could under applicable program rules decide not to provide the loan. Institutions are reminded that, as an alternative to student borrowing by underage applicants, their parents may consider borrowing a Direct PLUS Loan.

Validity of the Student Information Provided on the FAFSA

We expect that financial aid staff will work closely with very young applicants and their families to insure that the applicants understand the information required to be provided on the FAFSA. However, in those situations where there was little or no contact between the underage applicant and institutional staff and the institution has concerns about the information provided by a very young applicant (assuming the underage applicant is not selected for verification by the Department), we remind institutions of their authority under 34 CFR 668.54(a)(3) to require an applicant to verify any FAFSA information that the institution specifies. If the institution believes that an applicant may have not understood the information being requested on the FAFSA or that the responses to the FAFSA questions are unreasonable, the financial aid administrator could require documentation to assure that taxpayer funded Title IV, HEA funds are being awarded on correct data.

If you have questions you can contact Lisa Washington at 1-202-377-3889 or Lisa.D.Washington@ed.gov.

   

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