If you have a child in college, or, will have one entering college in fall of 2017, I've got your weekend plans all lined up. The process for filing FAFSA (Free Application for federal Student Aid) has changed. The most important thing to know is that starting this Saturday (October 1) you can access the FAFSA forms and submit your application. So, if you have college-aged children, plan to get started on it this weekend.
In past years the forms weren't available until January and required previous year tax return information. This often left parents scrambling to file their tax returns early in order to better understand how much aid you could plan for (which is often a big factor in choosing which school your child will attend). The process now allows you to use tax return information from the prior, prior year. So, for the school year 2017-2018, you will be using your 2015 tax return information.
We tend to find that times of stress leads to poor decision making when it comes to finances. Hopefully, this extra time will allow families to have more opportunity to process the information on aid and make better decisions. It also means you will have this information available during November and December when your child is making decisions on which schools to submit applications to. You won't necessarily have a firm aid offer from a college earlier, however, you will have a better sense of the type of aid you can expect earlier in the process.
The forms should also be a little easier to fill out for most families going forward, as many more will be able to utilize the I.R.S. Data Retrieval Tool which automatically transfer much of the income information the application requires.
As you may know, the federal government and most schools use the data from FAFSA (information on your assets and income) to determine how much families can afford to pay for college, and how much can be offered in grants, loans and work-study programs. As I've said in the past, the term Financial Aid is misleading as the majority of "Aid" is in the form of loans.
Typically, we suggest that all families fill out the application. Even affluent families who do not expect to get any aid should go through the process. If there is more than one child in school in a given year, it is possible that some aid is available. Some colleges also require FAFSA to be filled out for them to offer any merit-based aid.
As you may know, certain colleges and scholarship programs use another application, the CSS Profile. This is also available to complete starting October 1st.
Here's a link to a great article from the NYT with more details on the changes:
By SUSAN DYNARSKI
Thanks to long-overdue reforms, college applicants can find out earlier, often while they’re still comparing options, whether they qualify for federal aid.