The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available! For the first time, families do not need to wait until January to fill out the FAFSA, nor do they have to estimate their tax information. Besides being available three months early, the FAFSA is also using prior-prior tax information, or 2015 taxes for the 2017-2018 school year form. The neat thing for this year is that now nearly all families will be able to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval tool that allows you to directly migrate tax info into the FAFSA. This saves time and decreases entry errors dramatically.
What is the FAFSA? The FAFSA is a government form that almost all colleges use when determining if a student is eligible for need- based aid. The formula gives schools a family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), which shows how much a family can absorb in college costs for the year. The EFC number doesn’t mean that is how much cash you have on hand to pay for college. A number of colleges also use either their own financial aid form or the CSS Profile in addition, which allows them to better utilize institutional aid in their financial aid awards. Check the website for each college you are applying to in order to find out what financial aid forms and deadlines they are using this year.
Who should fill out the FAFSA? Everyone intending to be in college full time in the Fall of 2017. There is no specific income cut-off point that makes families eligible for financial aid. The FAFSA form also is required if a student or parent wants to take advantage of any of the federal loan programs. If your EFC is too high to qualify for need based aid at an institution, it is still beneficial to file it in case there is a change in family circumstances during the year (job loss, death, divorce, etc.). It is much easier to update a FAFSA or contact the financial aid office of your college with updated information than it is to submit a new FAFSA during a time of crisis.
When should it be done? Colleges post their priority filing deadline on their websites, and even with the early opening date for filing the FAFSA, many colleges still have their priority dates in January and February. However, since you don’t need to wait on tax information, filing now will get your student in the financial aid queue much earlier. Some colleges will start to award financial aid packages earlier (especially those with rolling admission deadlines).
If you have questions about the FAFSA, financial aid process or financing college, the Federal Student Aid website is a wealth of good information. Also, many high schools are offering FAFSA-filing workshops at their schools during October, so check your school calendar for availability of sessions