Take Advantage of FAFSA Changes

An earlier filing date, easier access to your tax info and more. 

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, is required by almost all colleges to qualify for need-based financial aid including scholarships, grants, loans and work-study. Federal financial aid is funded by the government but distributed through the college.

Note that merit-based aid, awarded for academic and other achievements, does not require FAFSA.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, there are some important changes to the FAFSA, including an application release three months earlier.

What the changes mean:

High school seniors can know the real cost of college before they apply The original opening date for FAFSA was January 1. With the new October 1 release date, high school seniors will have their expected family contribution (EFC) information as they begin to apply to college. This is the amount the student and his family are responsible for in terms of paying for college. Check each college’s website to learn if it commits to meeting a student’s full financial need.

Current college students can figure out next year’s aid sooner Now, almost a year in advance, college kids and their families will know what portion of next year’s bill they’re responsible for. This information will help students figure out how much they need to earn from a summer job or internship, and whether to get a part-time job during the academic year. Parents can begin looking more closely at their finances now to determine what, if anything, they can afford to chip in next year.

You use an earlier tax year With the new FAFSA, families no longer have to rush to complete their tax returns so that they can meet a college’s financial aid application deadline. The new FAFSA uses the prior, prior year’s return. For instance, the 2017-2018 academic year FAFSA, which can be filed in the fall of 2016, takes information from the student’s and the family’s 2015 tax returns. There’s even an online tool that downloads tax information directly from the IRS to the FAFSA application. Note that you and your student will still need copies of your tax returns on hand to confirm your adjusted gross incomes.

More time to file Every college has its own FAFSA deadline. With some deadlines as early as February or March, future and current students now have several months in which to complete their application in order to receive the maximum amount of aid.

A better chance of meeting state financial aid deadlines Many students are eligible for aid directly from their state, but that requires completing the FAFSA by a specific date. The earlier release makes it easier to meet state deadlines. Visit the FAFSA site to find your state’s deadline.

Changes in your financial situation in the past year won’t be included There is no place on the FAFSA application to explain that a parent lost a job, had to stop working due to illness, etc. In that case, students should contact a college’s financial aid office directly and explain that what’s on the 2015 tax return does not represent the family’s current financial situation. This seems to be the one downside of the new application.

Easier to file early By filing sooner rather than later, your student has the best chance of receiving the largest amount of aid, before a college has committed all of its funds to other students.

Share your thoughts on the FAFSA changes in the comments section below.

 

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