Upcoming FAFSA Changes for the 2017-2018 Academic Year
Students must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to determine eligibility for federal student aid. Federal student aid includes Federal Pell Grants, Federal student loans, and work-study opportunities. In addition, the FAFSA is also utilized to determine eligibility for nonfederal student aid and various scholarships. Currently, the FAFSA is available for applicants to complete on January 1 of the upcoming application cycle using prior year income data. For example, the 2016-2017 FAFSA application will utilize 2015 income information. However, many deadlines for state aid are as early as March, and for some students, the FAFSA application cycle is not aligned with college admissions application deadlines. This creates a major time crunch for applicants. In addition, the availability of an applicant’s income and tax information may cause delays even if the delay is unavoidable. This may cause students to miss out on some state and/or institutional aid.
To help alleviate some of the pressure families’ face, two major changes are being implemented beginning with the 2017-18 FAFSA:
• Submit a FAFSA Earlier: Students will be able to file a 2017–18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, thus allowing students to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as October 1 every year.
• Use Earlier Income Information: Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, students will report income information from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, students (and parents, as appropriate) will report their 2015 income information, rather than their 2016 income information. (Prior Prior Year)
The following table provides a summary of key dates as we transition to using the early FAFSA submission timeframe and earlier tax information.
What are the advantages of this change?
Recent research and the Department of Education’s own data suggest that implementing an earlier start date and using earlier income information will benefit students. Benefits include:
Alignment— The financial aid application process may be more aligned with the college admission process. Knowing how much financial aid is available earlier can help families make better enrollment decisions.
Certainty—Applicants will not need to estimate income or taxes paid. With prior-prior year, the tax return for the prior prior year normally has been filed and there are no issues with accessing it via IRS data retrieval.
Less pressure—The October 1 start date will provide more time for students and parents to explore and understand financial aid options and apply for aid before state and institution deadlines.
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