What you need to know about applying for financial aid
Applying for financial aid just got a little easier due to two key changes:
- You can now complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2017-18 academic year beginning October 1 rather than January 1 as in previous years. To be considered for federal, state and institutional aid and be offered the most complete financial aid package, you must complete the FAFSA.
- You now are able to use your previous year’s tax information rather than waiting to complete your taxes after January 1. This means for 2017-18, you would report your 2015 income information. For the 2018-19 FAFSA, it would be your 2016 income information. You also can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to electrically retrieve your previous year tax information so you don’t have to re-enter it.
So what’s the point of these changes? The goal is to provide more information about how much financial aid your student is eligible to receive earlier in the process so that you have more time to weigh that when making a decision about which college to attend.
But keep in mind that colleges may be only able to provide an estimate of the financial aid eligibility rather than a full financial aid award letter because:
- Federal and state governments don’t give colleges information on Pell and State Grants until January or February.
- Many colleges do not set their costs for the upcoming year until the spring, although some are now working to set it in the fall.
Changes in income
In circumstances where a change in employment or marital status occurred in the current or prior year but not the year in which the taxes were used for the FAFSA, you should contact the school directly to explain your special financial circumstances. A college’s net price calculator may help you get an idea of how a change in income might affect how much financial aid your student is eligible to receive.