Get Ready for the Early FAFSA

Start Gathering Documents Now for the October Launch Date

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Have you heard about the “Early FAFSA” yet? If you are the parent of a student who will need financial aid to attend college during the 2017-18 academic year, this is definitely something you will need to familiarize yourself with very quickly. Although in many senses it is still the same old FAFSA, the big change is that it will now be available much earlier than ever. You can start completing the FAFSA on October 1, 2016, instead of waiting until January.

You will also be able to use financial information from your 2015 federal income tax return, which is intended to make things easier for everyone involved.

There is still a great deal of discussion happening as to how this will play out in the world of financial aid. Some colleges will adjust their financial aid deadline while others will not, so it is crucial that you check your student’s college website to determine the exact date they have chosen, even if your student already attends this college. Nobody wants to miss out on potential aid because they missed a deadline. This may cause uncertainty in some households as there are certainly high school seniors who are still settling on college choices, but you don’t need to have your heart set on a specific college to fill out the FAFSA. Just do it as quickly as possible, even if you are still working on college applications.

Similar to previous years, there are still some things you can do in advance to get ready for the early FAFSA.

Here are a few ways you can be prepared for the new October launch date:

  • Get a FAFSA ID Now: Students, parents, and borrowers will need a FSA ID to gain entry to certain Department of Education websites, to confirm your identity when accessing personal financial aid information and to electronically sign federal student aid documents. The FSA ID is made up of a username and password, and can be obtained at any time. Instead of waiting until you sit down to complete the FAFSA, set up an FSA ID now and cross one thing off your college application list.
  • Tax Information: The 2017-18 FAFSA will utilize information from the 2015 tax year to calculate your financial aid eligibility. Families which completed the 2016-17 FAFSA will reuse the same information. These returns should have already been completed by now but, if you filed an extension, try to get those tax returns submitted as quickly as possible. This will make it easier to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) when completing the FAFSA. The DRT automatically retrieves information from your tax return and populates the form with this information. This could save valuable time and effort.
  • Gather Documents: Similar to previous years, you will still need to have certain documents available to complete the personal financial information sections of the FAFSA. Make sure you have easy access to social security numbers, a driver’s license number for the student, Alien Registration number for non-citizens, and records of untaxed income. You will also need information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate but not including the home in which you live; and business and farm assets for the student and for the student’s parents if you are a dependent student.
  • Be Prepared to Explain Changes: One possible concern about using 2015 tax information is that something might have changed during 2016. If your family experienced a loss of income since the 2015 tax year, talk to the financial aid office at the schools where your student is applying and provide documentation. They have the ability to assess your situation independent of the FAFSA and make adjustments accordingly.

Beware of any FAFSA scams that might pop up due to these upcoming changes. This is still the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Although many families feel that it is a good investment to pay a reputable college financial aid advisor to help negotiate the entire financial aid process, it is possible to complete the FAFSA without spending any money.