FAFSA Application Now Available Earlier
- October 10, 2016
- Posted by: Jeff Gitlen
- Category: Financial Aid
This year marks an important change in the way the Free Application for Student Aid (commonly known as FAFSA) is accepted. Starting in 2016, the FAFSA can be filed on October 1st of the year preceding the academic year for which aid is being sought. In previous years, the application period did not begin until January 1st of the year in which the academic year began. This change is permanent, and it means that students have a longer period of time in which to apply for financial aid.
It also means that students are under increased pressure to start looking for financial aid earlier. Many sources of aid are “first come, first serve.” And almost all aid, whether it comes from government sources, private scholarships, or schools themselves, require students to first submit a FAFSA that can be found online.
In other words, students who wait until January as in previous years may find themselves preempted for limited sources of aid by those students who take advantage of the new, earlier system in order to get a head start on their scholarship applications, state grants, federal student loans, and school-funded aid.
Submission of a FAFSA requires a student to prove their income, which is usually accomplished through submission of the previous year’s tax return. When the student is classified as a dependent student, this requirement includes their parents’ tax return(s) as well. For example, when submitting a FAFSA for the 2016-2017 academic year, which has a FAFSA application period that began on January 1, 2016, and is still open, students are required to submit tax return information for 2015.
Now that the application period is opening up three months earlier, the U.S. Department of Education is changing the rule regarding submission of tax returns because the application period now begins before the change in year. Students will now be required to report income information from a year earlier. So, starting with the 2017-2018 financial aid year, students will be required to submit tax returns from two years ago instead of the previous years.
Beginning on October 1, 2016, FAFSA submission has been open for the 2017-2018 academic year and applications should be accompanied by tax return information from 2015. On October 1, 2017 – when the application period opens up for the 2018-2019 academic year – students will submit tax return information for 2016. Importantly, the deadline for FAFSA isn’t affected by this change. The application period begins in October of the previous year, but the deadline will remain June 30th of the academic year in question. For instance, FAFSAs for the 2017-2018 academic year can be submitted as soon as October 1, 2016, and as late as June 30, 2018.
Be warned that that some schools are changing their relevant dates for aid application. While in the past it was common to see schools encourage students to apply for limited aid opportunities “as soon after January 1st as possible,” students should expect to see that change in many cases to “as soon after October 1st as possible.” Deadlines for state aid will likely also change in response to the earlier FAFSA application period.
For those students whose income has significantly changed since the required tax return, the U.S. Department of Education is not offering a chance to submit a more recent tax return in lieu of the one two years back. Instead, its advice to students is to submit the correct tax return with their FAFSA application and then contact their school’s financial aid office to explain the change in circumstances. This situation may lead to increased time spent with financial aid offices and increased requirements for documentation of income on the part of students.
More information on the changes to FAFSA can be found on the U.S. Department of Education's FAFSA and Student Aid Sites. Students should be careful to check for new deadlines with any applicable states, schools, or private organizations that they plan to apply to. If it appears a deadline online has not changed, or it is unclear whether a financial aid opportunity is now open for applications on the same timeline as the FAFSA process, its highly recommended to check directly with the source of aid to confirm their application period.