FAFSA changes to begin for all students on October 2016

by Sara Keen

A rumor and variety of articles have been circulating the internet recently about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the financial aid application that almost every college student fills out each year.

Starting with the 2017-18 FAFSA, all students will be able to fill there forms out on Oct. 1, rather than the original Jan. 1 start date.  This is a permanent change.

Students will also be asked for the previous year’s tax information.  For example, on Oct. 1, students will submit their 2015 tax information instead of estimating for 2016.

According to studentaid.ed.gov, the official website behind FAFSA, “Because the FAFSA will ask for older income and tax information, you will already have done your taxes by the time you fill out your FAFSA, and you won’t need to estimate your tax information.”

This will allow students to finish the application immediately, rather than waiting for taxes to be finished to update the information on their FAFSA.

Studentaid does strongly suggest students use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool from now on when filling out their FAFSA.  This will allow students to fill out the tax information faster and more efficiently than before.

“Because the FAFSA is available earlier, you may feel less pressure due to having more time to explore and understand your financial aid options and apply for aid before your state’s and school’s deadlines,” added Studentaid.

Students are not guaranteed to receive offers earlier with the new deadline, however.  Even if a student files on the Oct. 1 date, they may not hear from schools until they begin their reviews.

The Pell Grant is also going to be uncertain for all students until the maximum grant is known in early 2017.

“The aim is to reduce inaccuracies and the need for verification, give institutions more time to review documents and potentially allow them to mail award letters earlier in the application cycle,” wrote Farran Powell of the U.S. News.

There is one more major change with the 2016 FAFSA changes that is likely to be less obvious to students.

Many Institutions will no longer be able to see where the students ranked them when filling out FAFSA.  However, Powell added a warning that the lists will still be available to “state agencies,” and suggested that students put state colleges at the top of their lists.

The paper version of FAFSA is also being phased out, and will only be available upon request in the Financial Aid office of any school.

There should not be any changes to the final submission deadline, despite the earlier start date.  Students will still have until July 30 to complete their FAFSA.

“I had no idea they were changing the start date,” said Courtney Southern, a Volunteer State Community College student, “but I think it will be helpful for students who need the financial aid.  It could probably take some of the anxiety off of filling out the forms and waiting.”

Southern said she looks forward to [hopefully] seeing some school offers earlier so that she can make her decision on where to go next.

Anyone who would like more information on the FAFSA changes should visit studentaid.gov/fafsa.