FAFSA Changes Begin This Year

FAFSAThe single most important thing students can do to get financial aid for college is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be easily filled out and submitted online.

Every year, more than 13 million students submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This financial assistance program helps students pay for college through federal grants, loans, or work study programs.

Federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s important that students stay up-to-date on all things FAFSA, including key changes like the following.

FAFSA Changes for 2017-18

The U.S. Department of Education moved up the FAFSA availability date to October 1, to enable students and their parents to make decisions about college earlier. To do that, families will use their income and tax information from 2015 to fill out the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year.

In past years, the FAFSA wasn’t available until January 1. But with the new changes allowing students to start applying in October, financial aid experts say opening up the application sooner is intended to simplify the process – although at first it may sound more complicated.

“Instead of using the previous year’s income information, they’re going to be using [the] prior, prior year; so for the 16/17 school year, students used their 2015 tax information, and that’s the school year we’re in right now, but starting for 2017/2018 when they apply they’ll be able to use their 2015 tax information again,” said Jerolyn Grandall, a financial aid manager at Western Technical College.

The new FAFSA will allow most families to use the data retrieval tool to insert their prior income and tax information into the application to save time. Previously, applicants could fill out their FAFSA after January 1 with estimates of their income and then bring in the more recent information after they filed their taxes for the year.

Because families will now be using tax information from two years earlier, it’s possible that their income may have drastically changed from one year to the next. In this case, colleges will work with families to make sure they are getting the aid they deserve.

College Financial Aid Packages

The FAFSA is the central tool that most colleges and universities use to determine how much financial aid to offer students, and whether those students are eligible for federal and state aid.

Typically, colleges had spring deadlines for prospective students to complete their FAFSA. Then colleges would mail or e-mail financial aid packages to prospective students they had accepted.

May 1 has been the universal date by which students were supposed to let colleges know their choice. That didn’t give families much time to figure out if they could afford to pay tuition once they knew how much aid their student would receive.

Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, said that by making the FAFSA available earlier, the feds hope colleges will provide prospective students with financial aid packages sooner.

Current College Students

The early FAFSA application might not do much to move up the release of awards to current students, because federal rules require colleges to show that students receiving federal or state aid are making satisfactory progress toward their degrees.

“That includes a review of grades and other measures that schools have to use,” said Dennis Levy, director of financial services at Moravian College. “We have to see the outcomes of the spring semester and consider them as part of the decision of which students are eligible for aid and how much.”

Summary of FAFSA Changes

  • College students and their parents can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as October 1.
  • The federal government will use the previous year’s income to determine aid eligibility.
  • Some colleges may move up the notification date of their aid packages to students as a result.

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