You’ve probably heard some talk about “the new FAFSA.” But what exactly is changing? And what will that mean for you, your family, and your financial aid?
What Exactly Is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA (short for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”) is a federal form that nearly all colleges and universities use to help determine how much financial aid you and your family are eligible for. It’s created and coordinated by the U.S. Department of Education, and it is safe and secure. It asks questions about how much money your family made (income) and how much money your family paid in taxes for the previous year. You can learn more about it and fill it out online.
When Is It Due?
How it used to work: Before, students and families could start filling out and submitting their FAFSA in January. For example, if you wanted to start or continue college in September 2016, you could only start filling out your FAFSA in January 2016.
How it works now: In order to make things a little easier, the FAFSA is going to be available earlier—meaning in October instead of January. So if you want to start or continue in college in September 2017, you’ll be able to start filling out your FAFSA in October 2016. This can help you better plan financially for college, as you’ll get your financial aid information sooner than before.
What Information Does It Use?
How it used to work: Traditionally, students and their families had to estimate what they thought their family income and taxes would be for the year. This would sometimes get tricky if what your income and tax forecasts did not come true.
How it works now: It’s obviously easier to use information from your family’s actual past income and taxes instead of your family’s estimated future income and taxes. As a result, the new FAFSA will directly import your family’s previous income and tax information from the IRS. This means that instead of having to guess what your income and taxes will be in the current year, the FAFSA now uses what they really were in the previous year.
Why it’s a little confusing: As the system switches from using estimated future income/taxes to using actual previous income/taxes, there will be one year that you’ll use twice in a row. For both the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 academic years, you’ll be using your family’s 2015 tax information.
After the 2017-2018 academic year, completing the FAFSA will be much faster and easier. It’s just during this transition that the process will be a little unusual.
Where Can I Go for More Information?
- A college’s financial aid office is your best bet. They’re helping students with the new form and will be happy to answer any questions you might have. If you’re thinking of attending a school, it’s okay to reach out and just make sure you’re providing all the right information at the right time.
- Your high school counselor should also be able to help. Similar to college financial aid advisers, they should know about the change and be able to help explain things to you and your family.