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2017 FAFSA Changes: What They Mean For You

Few government programs stay the same forever, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The government typically changes the FAFSA at least a little each year. The function of the FAFSA is to identify how much money a family or individual makes and draw on that information to best determine if the applying student (both recent graduates and adult learners) will qualify for any forms of government financial aid.

The biggest changes to the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year are the submission date and the tax forms you will use.[1]

What were these requirements before the change?
Before 2017, applicants hoping to gain financial aid for the 2016/2017 school year would have had to submit the FAFSA somewhere between January 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. Note that this effectively gave applying students and their families approximately 1 ½ years to apply for the school year, and allowed families to get financial aid money even up to the last day of a regular semester (or in some cases, after the official semester ended). That application would have also required income and tax information from the previous year, 2015.

How do these changes affect my FAFSA application now?
The federal government has made a significant extension of these rules. For the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 academic school years, anyone applying for federal student aid through FAFSA will have three additional months to file for aid and will be able to use income tax documents from the two years prior.

For the 2017/2018 academic school year, anyone applying for federal aid can apply between October 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018. The tax documents supporting this application should come from 2015, not 2016. For the 2018/2019 academic school year, you should submit your application between October 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019. The required tax documents for that year will be your 2016 tax returns.

You will be using your 2015 tax documents for two years in a row if you applied for federal student aid last year and will be applying for aid again for the upcoming academic year.

How do these changes affect me?
These changes may have some benefits for you and your family. First, the extended application window will give you more opportunity to fill out your FAFSA forms and to get them in early. Grants such as the Pell Grant, have limited resources and cannot serve all applicants. Grant funds are given out on a need basis, but also a first come first served basis. Many lower-income families have missed out by not filing their applications on time, and have not received grant money they deserved. The longer window gives those families a better chance at receiving Pell Grants and other grant funds.

Because you may use an older tax document, you may benefit from changes in your family's income. In many cases, family incomes rise year-to-year, resulting in lower amounts received from the federal government through financial aid. By using slightly older tax documents, you can help ensure your family receives financial aid more closely aligned with what you can contribute. Note, however, that this income reporting change is a requirement, not an option. If your family's income and ability to contribute went down year to year, you would have to wait an additional year before you can benefit from those financial changes.

Be sure to add these updates to your calendar. Families that have been filing the FAFSA for a few years may need to adjust when they file the application. Additionally, remember that each state utilizes the FAFSA to deliver student aid to students attending school locally. However, each state has different deadlines for their grants and student aid, separate from the federal government. You can check the US Department of Education's website for exact deadlines for each state and their grant programs.