Early FAFSA Filing
Are you or your child planning to attend a post-secondary institution in the fall of 2017? A new rule from the Department of Education allows you to file your 2017-2018 Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as October 1, 2016. Parent or student income and tax information from the previous year, this year using 2015 information, will be reported on the application. This permanent change allows consumers to complete and submit the FAFSA application earlier and more accurately because you won’t need to estimate your tax information and then update at a later date.
According to Sydney Rott, Financial Aid Counselor at South Dakota State University (SDSU), an advantage of completing the form earlier is to have the process completed so you don’t have to think about it. The priority date for filing the FAFSA at SDSU is March 15th which means that if students have completed the application by that date they will have a higher likelihood of receiving extra grants, Perkins loans, and work study in which they qualify. Check the school in which you are applying because each have a different priority date. Even though the date to file the FAFSA is earlier, awarding of financial aid does not change. For incoming freshman, awards are made after March 15th, for continuing students, awards are made after the end of the spring semester.
Entering Tax Information
If you completed a FAFSA for the 2016-2017 year and choose the Renewal FAFSA option on the application, some basic information will be prepopulated into the form but the tax information you used will have to be reentered. You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to automatically import your tax information into the application. Visit the Federal Student Aid FAFSA website to learn more. Report only the information that is requested. A common question received at the Financial Aid office at SDSU is “If I have my 2016 taxes done before I fill out the FAFSA can I use 2016 instead of 2015?” Rott explained that the answer is “no’. If you use the information from the incorrect year, an error code will be sent out. Changes will then have to be made that will delay the processing of the application. This is important information for both new filers and renewing filers.
A disadvantage of using the prior year’s income and tax information is if family income has changed significantly since 2015. For example, if there was a job loss, loss of parent or spouse, or high medical bills that significantly impacts the amount of parent contribution for the 2017-2018 year. Rott explained that if this is your situation, you would need to still use the prior year information and then contact the financial aid office at the school the student will be or is attending. SDSU has a process called Professional Judgement where income adjustments can be made when additional information is provided. If you do need to complete a Professional Judgement, change of income forms will not be accepted until after March 15th. Keep in mind, not all schools have this process so make sure to contact your school to learn about their process.
Benefits of Filing Early
For anyone planning to apply for financial aid to attend a post-secondary institution, completing the FAFSA early and accurately will ensure consumers will be informed of their aid eligibility. Rott recommends that current students check their school email regularly and to keep in contact with the financial aid office. Incoming freshman and their families can also contact financial aid counselors at all schools to answer questions about the new rule and any other financial aid questions.
For more information about completing the FAFSA and this new rule visit the Federal Student Aid FAFSA website.