Submitting the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the first step towards paying for college, even for those students who don’t expect to qualify for need-based financial aid. If you want to be considered for scholarships, grants, or student loans, completing a FAFSA is nearly always required.
In the past, the timing of the FAFSA process didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The application asked for information from the family’s most recent federal tax returns, but students had to scramble to gather that tax information in order to meet state and school deadlines that were often early in the calendar year.
These are the BIG changes coming to FAFSA
Students will submit the required information earlier: In past years, the FAFSA season began in January, but for students planning to attend college in the 2017–2018 academic year, the FAFSA application will now officially be available starting October 1, 2016. This is a permanent change, and the FAFSA will continue to be available on that date every year moving forward.
Various state and school deadlines will also be earlier: Some state deadlines for first come, first served aid will change from “as soon as possible after January 1” to “as soon as possible after October 1.” It’s important that you check both state and school deadlines so you don’t miss out on any aid. State deadlines are listed under “Deadlines” on fafsa.gov; school deadlines are on schools’ websites.
Income Information will come from earlier tax year: Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you’ll report income information from an earlier tax year. By October 1, 2016 when the FAFSA opens, most families will have filed their 2015 taxes and more students and families will be able to complete FAFSAs using data imported electronically from the IRS, rather than submitting applications with estimates that may need correcting later.
For example the 2017–18 FAFSA will require 2015 income information, rather than 2016 income information. This results in two FAFSAs in a row asking for 2015 income information—this is a one-time thing. The 2018-19 FAFSA will ask for 2016 income, and so on. If your family’s income has changed since the 2015 tax year, talk to the college financial aid office about the family’s situation.
Aid offers may be available earlier than in the past: Because the FAFSA will be submitted earlier and income will be documented sooner, some schools and states are likely to process applications and offer financial aid awards earlier than in years past.
Even with these improvements, the whole financial aid process can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when practices change. So we created a guideline to help navigate the timeline shift:
• Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID
• Track the new deadlines on a calendar
• Apply to colleges and financial aid at the same time
• If your finances change, prepare to appeal
• Apply for loans to cover the remaining costs
Once you’ve exhausted all the resources for financial aid, private student loans can cover the remaining costs. These loans are in the name of the student but often require a co-signer. They are not guaranteed or subsidized by the government. Instead, they are based on the credit qualifications of the student and/or the credit qualifications of any co-signer they have on the loan.
Visit West Community Student Choice for more helpful resources to prepare you for heading out on your own. If you need help making any financial decisions, reach out to your credit union for experienced advice and customized solutions.