6 Surprising Facts About the Early FAFSA

The Change in Financial Aid Schedules Has People Talking

Student in the library

The Early FAFSA debuted on October 1, 2016, for the 2017-18 academic year, and this change has lots of people talking. Some are slightly confused, while some are misinterpreting the facts, and still others are just making up sweeping generalities. None of this is going to help.

In fact, just calling it the early FAFSA can be a little misleading as there is not going to be any late FAFSA. This is it.

It’s a permanent change, and everyone in the financial aid stream is scrambling to adjust to it. To help parents and students who will be attending college next year, here are six surprising facts that will help you get a jump on applying for financial aid:

1. It uses the same tax information as your last FAFSA, but there could be a different outcome.

One big change in the FAFSA application is the use of “prior-prior year” information. This means that financial aid officers will look at tax information from a previous year instead of waiting for the current year’s information to be filed. Families who already completed a FAFSA for 2016-17 at the beginning of the year will be submitting two applications this year, but the results could be different — even though the same tax information from 2015 will be used.

Other factors which go into the financial aid calculation, such as the number of family members in college and cost of attendance, could affect the amount of aid you receive.

Even if you didn’t receive any awards last year, you should still fill out this year’s application because you can’t qualify for any aid if you don’t complete the FAFSA. Your student may be eligible for the federal work-study program. The FAFSA is also required to determine eligibility for federal student loans, as well as state financial aid, institutional grants, and private scholarships.

2. You won’t have to go back and update it with 2016 tax information.

In previous years you could estimate your tax information, and then go back and update it when your federal returns were filed. This year’s FAFSA will only need the 2015 information, so you should already have that accessible through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). There will be no need to go back and update it because the 2016 tax information will not be needed until next year’s FAFSA is available.

3. You must use the 2015 tax information.

Some applicants might think that they should estimate their 2016 information because it might allow them to receive more financial aid, but you are required to submit the form based on the 2015 information. If your situation has really changed that dramatically, you will have to talk directly to the college’s financial aid office and may need to present documentation of any substantial changes in your financial position.

4. This may or may not affect the timing of award notices.

Even though the FAFSA will be available earlier, all colleges are not in agreement as to how this may affect their financial aid application and award deadlines. Some have already chosen to move up their financial aid application timeframes, while others have not.

Although it is hoped that the early FAFSA will align award notifications more closely with early acceptance letters, this is not the case in all situations. Especially this year, it is crucial that you check the website for each individual college to determine how they will handle financial aid deadlines.

5. You might not have as much time as you think.

Although the fall of 2017 seems so far off right now, it is still important to file the FAFSA as early as possible. Some financial aid programs have limited funding available and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Don’t miss out because you think you have the luxury of time on your side.

6. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t applied yet.

The old mentality was that you applied to colleges first, and then completed the FAFSA, but that is no longer true.

You can file a FAFSA now, and go back later to add colleges to receive your information.