FAFSA Changes

The FAFSA is coming! The FAFSA is coming! And it’s coming earlier than ever!

For parents who have applied for financial aid in the past, there are a couple of major changes to the application process to take note of. Students will be able to submit their FAFSA applications earlier this year than in the past, when they had to wait until after the first of the year. The FAFSA for the 2017/18 school year will be available to high school seniors and their parents beginning on October 1, 2016.  Families will also be using earlier income information—from two years back instead of this past year.  The table below provides you a summary of the timing of when you can file each year’s FAFSA and the tax year information that you will use.

School Year When FAFSA Can Be Submitted Income and Tax Year Information
17-18 October 1, 2016 – June 30, 2018 2015
18-19 October 1, 2017 – June 30, 2019 2016
19-20 October 1, 2018 – June 30, 2020 2017
20-21 October 1, 2019 – June 30, 2021 2018

With these changes in timing, you will no longer need to estimate income information and go back to update the FAFSA once you have filed your taxes. You already completed your 2015 taxes, probably back in April, and should have this income information easily available. If you have a returning student and completed the FAFSA for the 2016/17 school year with 2015 income data, you may be wondering if that information will be automatically carried over. Unfortunately, it won’t. But since you have already completed your taxes, you will likely be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to import your income information into your FAFSA. This feature will make the financial aid application process a lot easier and will eliminate the need for manual income entry.

Benefits of FAFSA changes include:

  • Families will know their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) earlier. Knowing your EFC can assist in determining the net price for colleges your children are considering.
  • Some colleges may send out financial aid offers earlier, allowing you more time for financial planning and comparing/negotiating financial aid packages before you have to make your enrollment decision by May 1st.
  • You’ll have more time to work with colleges to explain and document any special financial circumstances and ask for reconsideration of aid offers.

While the early FAFSA application should make for a smoother financial aid application process for most families, it has one major drawback. Since finances can change from year to year, your 2015 tax data may not reflect your current income. If your income has decreased since the 2015 tax year reported on the FAFSA, due to a job loss/change or cutback in hours/overtime, you can work with the colleges your children are applying to (or attending), documenting your change in circumstances and asking them to reevaluate your children’s aid offers based on your lower current income.

As your children are busy submitting their admissions applications this fall, you can do your part by starting to gather the financial information that you will need to file your FAFSA after October 1st. We at College Coach hope this new process will be less stressful for families and take a lot of the guesswork out of what can be a nerve-wracking process.

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Written by Beth Feinberg Keenan
Beth Feinberg Keenan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Before joining College Coach, Beth worked as a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Northeastern University.