Do you have a child attending college? If not, will you in the upcoming years? If so, there are significant changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that will impact you.

New changes for the 2017-18 school year:

  1. The application became available on October 1, 2016. Previously this would have been January 1s,t   thereby increasing  the time frame to apply for financial aid by three months.
  2. 2015 tax return data may be used on the application. Under the prior rules, the most recent year’s tax data was required. That meant the 2016 tax return would have to be completed in order to finalize your financial aid application.

How do these new changes benefit families with college students?

  • The earlier you file the FAFSA, the greater the chances are of receiving financial aid. Most financial aid is granted on a first come, first serve basis. The October 1st release date of the application allows families an additional three months to file compared to prior years.
  • Using prior year tax returns accelerates the process and alleviates stress on both the parents and the tax preparers. There is no longer an urgency to complete the current tax return prior to filing the FAFSA for the upcoming school year.
  • There is no need to estimate income if your tax return was not complete. The new process is more accurate and allows quicker verification of your tax data which in turn speeds up the approval process.
  • The process is now streamlined with college scholarship deadlines. Many colleges require scholarship applications to be submitted between October 1st and March 1st. The new dates for FAFSA applications coincide with the college paperwork cycle.

Who is required to complete the FAFSA form? Any student interested in applying for federal student aid including Federal Pell Grants, federal student loans, and work-study opportunities. In addition, many states, private organizations, and colleges use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid and scholarships. Keep in mind that a new FAFSA application will need to be submitted each year the student attends college.

The online FAFSA application also includes an IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) which allows you to import your tax return information directly from the IRS website into the FAFSA application. This expedites the process by allowing faster verification of your tax return information.

The following table summarizes which tax returns are required for the upcoming school years.

School Year FAFSA Application Dates Tax Return Data
July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 January 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 2015
July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 October 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018 2015
July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 October 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019 2016