FAFSA Opens on October 1

In Paying for College on Aug 23, 2016

The 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is starting three months earlier, on October 1. Since families may not realize that the timing of the FAFSA has changed, they may miss out on some grants if they wait until January 1 to file. Students who file the FAFSA during the first three months tend to get more than twice as many grants as students who file the FAFSA later. At least eight states will award state grants starting October 1 on a first-come, first-served basis, until the money runs out. Colleges have fixed allocations of federal campus-based aid, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work-Study (FWS), so this money may be depleted if applicants wait to file the FAFSA. Many colleges also have more money available to students who apply for aid by the college’s priority deadline.

Also, the FAFSA is switching to using the previous year’s federal income tax returns (e.g., 2015 tax returns for the 2017-18 FAFSA), so many more families will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer information from their federal income tax returns into the FAFSA. This will not only simplify the form, but also reduce the likelihood that the FAFSA will be selected for verification. Any data element that is transferred unmodified from the IRS to the FAFSA will not be subject to verification. Avoiding verification will save families (and colleges) time and hassle.

Families cannot substitute 2016 income for 2015 income on the 2017-18 FAFSA, even if it is available. If 2016 income is lower, the family should appeal to the college financial aid administrator for a professional judgment review. Financial aid administrators have the discretion to make an adjustment to the family income, if they feel that the circumstances justify an adjustment. They have the option of substituting an estimate of 2017 income for the actual 2015 income. If the family income changes significantly from one year to the next, as often happens with self-employed individuals, the financial aid administrator might substitute an average of income during the last 3-5 years.

So put a reminder in your calendar to file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1!


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