In the past families spent the summer between a student’s junior and senior years of high school focusing on researching colleges and beginning work on admission applications. While some families were thinking ahead about financial aid, in most cases they did not need to start thinking about financial aid at this stage.
Due to the introduction of the new FAFSA with the 2017–2018 financial aid cycle, this will all change.
So what's changing with this new FAFSA?
First of all, it's available to be completed as soon as October 1, 2016, for those students applying for 2017–2018 financial aid consideration. That is a full three months earlier than it was previously available. In the past the form was available starting on 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 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 2017–2018 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 intended 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 who are accustomed to the previous time frame of the January 1 opening date will have to look to the individual colleges to see how their 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 2016 for 2017–2018 consideration.
I'm sure there will be some kinks to be worked out along the way, as is usually the case with these sorts of changes. But overall this should be a benefit to families, allowing them to check off a financial aid to-do sooner, and ideally do it more easily, than ever before.
This article was contributed by Blaine Blontz, Financial Aid Coach