Getting to know the new FAFSA
Previously, at this time of the year, most of the focus related to college planning for rising seniors revolved around admission applications. Some were thinking ahead about financial aid, and more and more schools have been requiring the CSS Profile, a form which can be completed as early as the fall of senior year in high school. Still, most of the focus on financial aid didn’t occur until after the calendar turned to the new year.
However, with the 2017-18 financial aid cycle, this will all change due to the introduction of the new FAFSA.
So what’s new about this upcoming FAFSA?
First of all, it’s available to be completed as soon as October 1 of 2016 for those students applying for 2017-18 financial aid consideration. That is a full three months earlier than it was previously available, as the FAFSA used to carry an opening date of January 1.
The other change is related to the tax information required to complete the FAFSA. Previously, families would need to wait until they had filed their current-year taxes before they could finalize the FAFSA. To meet deadlines or begin submitting the FAFSA on January 1, this often required families to generate financial estimates for their taxes. They would then have to go back and finalize these earlier estimates once their taxes were filed, either through the use of the Data Retrieval Tool or by manually inputting the actual totals.
Starting this year, families will be required to submit tax information from the earlier tax year. In the case of the 2017-18 application, families will use the 2015 tax information to file the FAFSA. Previously, they would have needed 2016 tax information to file the FAFSA.
So what do these changes mean? I previously looked at how some of these changes will impact families. You can revisit this, but essentially families will be able to fill out the FAFSA sooner using tax information that has already been filed (in a majority of cases). In this way, the FAFSA changes are seen as a way to make the process of completing the FAFSA easier than ever before. It eliminates the need for financial estimates that would previously complicate the process.
Of course, those families that are accustomed to the previous time frames of the January 1 opening date will have to look to schools to see how deadlines will be adjusted. Previously, deadlines were a little over a month out, to a few months out, from January 1. If that holds, schools could require a FAFSA to be submitted before the end of the 2016 year for 2017-18 consideration.
I’m sure there will be some kinks to be worked out along the way, as is usually the case with these sort of changes. But, in all, this should benefit families, allowing them to check off a financial aid to-do sooner, and ideally easier, than ever before.