Of all the alphabet soup acronyms that loom large over the financial aid process, no term is as important as FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is the gateway to federal financial aid, which includes grants, loans, and work-study programs. It’s important to understand FAFSA guidelines as you begin to plan for educational costs. The FAFSA process and application guidelines have some major changes coming this year to help more families access financial aid and assess the true cost of college earlier on.
There are two important changes to the FAFSA process this year.
- The FAFSA will be available on October 1 of the previous year, which is a change from prior years. For example – applicants for the 2016-17 school year could complete a FAFSA as of January 1 of 2016. But applicants for the 2017-18 school year will be able to complete a FAFSA as early as October 1 of 2016. The change is designed to help families by more closely aligning the financial aid application process to the college application process.
- The FAFSA will now use tax information from the "prior-prior year" (you'll sometimes see this referred to as PPY - another acronym!). If you applied for aid for the 2016-17 school year, you would have filed your FAFSA using your 2015 tax info. If you are applying for aid for the 2017-18 school year, you will also use your 2015 year tax info. By moving forward the deadline from Jan to Oct, the requirements for which tax information you must use with your FAFSA has also changed. Keep in mind you can use the IRS data retrieval tool to pull your tax data right into your FAFSA application, making it easier to complete this form.
Naturally, these new changes are going to inspire some questions! We’ve tried to anticipate what most families will want to know about the date and tax information changes for this year’s FAFSA. Here are the answers to your most pressing questions.
Will students still be required to complete an annual FAFSA?
Yes indeed. Federal aid eligibility doesn’t carry over from one year to the next, and eligibility can change based on a variety of factors. A student, for any part of the school year, will need to complete a FAFSA for that school year.
How long will the financial aid process take now that the FAFSA is available at an earlier date?
This is a tough question to answer, because each school will make its own decision about whether to alter its financial aid processing timeline. We suggest getting in touch with your school’s financial aid office directly with this question. Representatives from the financial aid office will be able to tell you whether they’re adjusting their timelines based on the new changes.
What if my family’s taxes aren’t complete?
Your family’s taxes do not need to be complete in order to fill out the FAFSA. If taxes are incomplete, the FAFSA requires that you estimate income information. Then, when taxes are completed, you can log back into the FAFSA and update or correct any information. Remember that most people will have completed their 2015 taxes, with a filing deadline of April 15, 2016, months before the 2017-18 FAFSA becomes available on October 1 of 2016.
The FAFSA process can seem daunting, but simplifying financial aid comes down to two key things: knowing the deadlines and getting comfortable with calling your school’s financial aid office with questions. Now that you’re armed with the newest changes to the FAFSA, you’re on your way!
Need help filing the FAFSA? Book a free appointment with the College Planning Center of Rhode Island for one-on-one guidance.