Get the FAFSA Facts

Are You Ready for New FAFSA Deadlines?

Confused about the upcoming changes to the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)? Perhaps you heard there is a “new” FAFSA, or that you’ll need to use older income information, but aren’t really sure what is going on. The Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), which is in charge of implementing these changes, has issued some helpful fact sheets to make sure everyone is on board and completely understands what they need to do.

To resolve these concerns, here are a few clarifications and updates from FSA:

  • What is happening with the FAFSA? The FAFSA itself has not really changed but, for the first time ever, applicants seeking funds for the 2017-18 college year will be able to file a FAFSA starting on October 1, 2016. This is a full three months earlier than previously allowed when the FAFSA became available on January 1. This change will move financial aid decisions more in line with college acceptances.
  • Why should I worry about this new availability date? You might think this doesn’t affect you and, in fact, most state and college FAFSA deadlines will probably occur at about the same time as they did for the 2016-17 application cycle. The concern for some families is that there are some “first-come, first-served” financial aid programs that may award benefits in the fall and early winter months. Failure to have a FAFSA filed in time could result in loss of access to these benefits.
  • How do I start? You can get a head start by getting an FSA ID. Then start gathering your information and learning about the FAFSA so you will be ready to file once the application is available.
  • Has anything changed? One thing you might notice is something called a “prior-prior year.” Previously you needed to have your federal tax returns completed quickly so you could use that information to complete the FAFSA, but that timeline put undue pressure on a lot of families. Now you can use the prior-prior year information, which should make things easier. For example, in the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year that will be available on October 1, 2016 you will be able to utilize income and financial information from the 2015 tax year.
  • How does this make it easier? If your 2015 federal income taxes have been filed by October, you should be able to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which automatically populates your FAFSA with information from your return. This saves you a lot of time and effort, and makes sure that the information matches what the federal government has on file for you. This should eliminate a lot of confusion and follow-up work due to errors and omissions.
  • I filed a FAFSA earlier this year. Do I need to do it again? The FAFSA you may have filed in January is for the 2016-17 academic year. The FAFSA that will be available on October 1 will be for the 2017-18 academic year. If you anticipate being in college in the fall of 2017 and would like to be eligible for financial aid, you will need to complete two FAFSAs this year. Although information will be the same for many filers, it is still possible that something might have changed in your personal situation which could affect your financial aid eligibility for next year.
  • What if our situation has changed substantially since our 2015 tax returns? Although you must file the FAFSA using information from the year required, you can contact your student’s colleges after submitting the form to explain any extenuating circumstances. For example, you might have lost a job or experienced a medical emergency in 2016 that severely affects your ability to earn an income. Gather supporting documentation and submit this directly to your student’s schools to take into consideration as they are granting financial aid awards.
  • What if we haven’t finalized the college list yet? Go ahead and submit the FAFSA using colleges that are currently on your student’s list. If new colleges get added into the mix during the year, you can go back and add them to your FAFSA list.