Heads up: This article is out of date! Find current financial aid information here.On September 14, 2015, President Obama announced some significant changes to the FAFSA – that’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which will begin starting as of 2017-2018. These changes, which start next year, will impact millions of students who apply for federal student aid and are being applied, in hopes, to make the process easier and more helpful for students in the college planning process. While the Obama Administration has already taken impressive strides in simplifying the FAFSA form for students, such as overhauling the online form, developing an easier electronic IRS income information accessibility tool which over six million students took advantage of last year and improving the overall ease of the form, the Administration still recognizes there’s still work to be done. “Applying for financial aid has been so cumbersome and poorly timed that many students don’t bother. Each year about 2 million students who would have qualified for federal Pell Grants don’t apply,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, according to a Post-Gazette article. “The fact that the financial aid form was a barrier to go to college was absolutely insane,” said Secretary Duncan. According to the Federal Student Aid website, the following changes will allow students to:
• Submit a FAFSA EarlierUnder the current FAFSA, students must wait until January 1 for the release of the form. The new change will allow for an earlier submission date, allow students to file a 2017-2018 FAFSA as early as October 1 (starting in 2016), which will be a permanent change. This means that, beginning next year, millions of students will be able to access, complete and submit their FAFSA forms as early as October 1 each year. The bottom line? You will be able to access, complete and submit the 2017-2018 FAFSA anytime between October 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018.
• Use Earlier Income Information on the FAFSA FormThis change will allow students and families to report income information from an earlier tax year, which will make the process much easier for many FAFSA filers. Currently, you are only able to use a “prior tax year” on the FAFSA form. For example, when filling out the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students and their families will be able to report 2015 tax income information, rather than having to wait for 2016 information. This means that students will no longer feel the need to wait for taxes to be filed to fill out the form, which was often a huge criticism of the FAFSA. Plus, more students will be able to utilize the electronic IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to access income information, which will avoid common mistakes students and families make with income estimates that often need correcting or, unfortunately, disqualify students for financial aid that actually should qualify. Note: These changes will occur next year and there will be NO change to this year’s FAFSA submission and application process. Again, this will NOT impact the 2016-2017 FAFSA (available this January). According to the Post-Gazette, President Obama announced the changes at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa. “You won’t have to wait for your W-2s to arrive before you get started, so you can get a jump on the college application process,” President Obama said to the juniors and seniors of North High school. He continued, “You’ll know sooner how much aid you qualify for [and] you’ll have more time to evaluate your options.”
Impact of the Changes:The Department of Education estimates that these changes will benefit students in the following ways: • The financial aid application process will be more aligned with the college admissions process, allowing students and their families to better plan on how to pay for school.
• Financial aid applicants will be able to have more certainty that their form is correct, with less need to estimate income or taxes.
• The earlier FAFSA release date will allow students and their families to feel less pressure in terms of the financial aid process, to better understand their financial aid options and apply before state deadlines. Remember, we’ll keep you updated on any more FAFSA changes but, for this year’s FAFSA, everything will remain the same as last year – January 1 is the still the date you need to remember to file your form this year!