The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms for the 2017-2018 year bring on a few major changes:
(a) They are available NOW – as of Oct 1 – three months earlier than they used to be.
Note that the FAFSA deadline is not until June 2017. But the sooner you file, the better. Individual colleges and scholarships may have different deadlines.
If you are going to file them — and we encourage everyone – everyone – even if you don’t think there’s a chance you’ll get any financial aid – everyone should file them. Some colleges may require FAFSAs even for merit aid (i.e., aid not based on financials).
(b) The new FAFSA forms now ask for household data from tax returns filed in 2016 — which means they are asking about your financial situation in 2015. So the financial aid for the college year starting in 2017 will be based on one’s 2015 information — *two* years prior. Previously, these forms asked about financial information from only *one* year prior.
That latter change may not help folks applying now, but it certainly suggests that if this change is going to be permanent — and it sure looks like it will be — folks need to be aware of the tax and financial aid consequences of their activities a year sooner. There are something which push one’s income up which only happen every once in a while (i.e., selling a house or appreciated stock) and it’s important to be aware of what that impact will be.
The main goal of these changes is to allow families to know earlier how much they’ll need to come up with to cover the year’s college costs.
FAFSA is used by most colleges to determine financial aid (a separate form, the CSS/Profile is separate and used by around 300 colleges — it, too is now available on Oct 1). The college application process is difficult enough. The financial aid landscape adds another layer of incredible complexity. We strongly encourage folks to consider finding professional help from a specialist in college financial aid applications and planning.
For more information about FAFSA start here, at the official government FAFSA site: https://fafsa.ed.gov