Changes to the FAFSA

For many college-bound students, financial aid is a necessity.  And for all undergrads, no matter their backgrounds or the schools they attend, financial aid starts with the FAFSA.  Recently, the government announced that, beginning October 1, 2016, changes will be made to the process.  Here’s what you need to know!

First off, as a quick refresher, FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  It’s a form that families submit to determine the amount of money they’ll be expected to contribute toward a student’s college tuition.  The results help to establish how many loans, grants, and/or work-study options are offered to each applicant.

Starting in 2016, the FAFSA will be made available beginning in October. More specifically, families may begin requesting/submitting forms during the October that is prior to the student’s actual intended year of enrollment.  So, if you plan on entering college in the fall of 2018, you would start filling out the FAFSA in October of 2017.  This is a bump up from January (of the year of enrollment).

Additionally, the FAFSA will begin using tax information from the last year all taxes have been filed, not the current year.  This is referred to as the “prior-prior” year.  A welcome change, this move helps to ensure that the information submitted by students is complete.  With the current system, many families end up sending in FAFSA paperwork before their taxes have been filed for the year.

Further, this modification will allow a much larger number of students/families to take advantage of a tool that lets the IRS automatically input data from filed tax returns directly into the FAFSA, saving time and curtailing headaches for many applicants.  And, most importantly, this change will provide students with a better idea of the aid they’ll likely receive earlier in the process.  Hence, they will be in a better position to evaluate their acceptances (especially critical for those students considering applying for early admission).

These adjustments to the FAFSA also mean that families really should familiarize themselves with a segment of the process known as professional judgment.  This practice refers to instances where financial aid officers are asked to take into account an applicant’s extenuating circumstances.  For example, a family might have received a one-time inheritance which increased income for a single year.  Or an unexpected death of a parent might have suddenly strained a family’s personal finances.  No matter the specific circumstances, now that there’s a larger break between when a student begins filing paperwork and enrolls in college, there’s a great likelihood that these situations may arise.  Therefore, it’s important to take note of this course of action.

Regardless of these changes, it’s critical that you start the paperwork as early as possible.  Indeed, even if you find the process somewhat overwhelming or confusing, you should take action as soon as you’re able.  This will help ensure that you have everything in order and that you’re able to receive all of the money for which you’re eligible.

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