Changes to FAFSA 2017-18: Here’s what you need to know

If you are like most college students, you have some student aid to help you pay for your higher education. FAFSA, aka the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, has undergone some changes this year.

I’ve got the fast facts to help you with all the things you need to know so your college expenses get covered.

New FAFSA fast facts

The new submission process for FAFSA is supposed to be easier than it has been in the past. The Federal Student Aid website posted “FAFSA Changes for 2017-18” with the details, but I’ve compiled the five main changes you can expect with the revised form:

  • The FAFSA can now be submitted starting on October 1, 2016, three months earlier than the previous starting submission date. The final deadline for applying is June 30, 2017 (but your state or college may have earlier deadlines).
  • You have to report tax income from one year earlier, so instead of submitting your parents’ 2016 tax info, you will need to use their 2015 tax filing.
  • Even if you have had a big financial change between 2015 and 2016, you have to use the information from 2015. FAFSA does recommend that if you have this issue, contact your school’s financial aid office directly.
  • Check your school’s deadline for filing. It may have changed, too, yet still be different than the FAFSA dates.
  • Earlier filing doesn’t mean you will get any student aid offers from your school any earlier. Each school will handle distribution of aid differently.

Common FAFSA errors

The changes to the FAFSA form are intended to make it easier for families to fill out and submit. However, many still find the six-page form a bit intimidating. Here are some more things you need to know so you don’t fall prey to the more common errors people make when filling out the student aid forms:

  • Not filing. If you don’t fill out FAFSA, you could be leaving money on the table.
  • “You” means the student. Odds are for many college students, your parents are filling the form out. When FAFSA asks for information, most of the “you” info is about the student, not the parent.
  • Claiming too many investments. Money in most retirement funds should not be included in investments on the FAFSA. CNBC has tips and fast facts on what to include and what not to list in Kelli B. Grant’s September 29, 2016, article “Parents: Get your finances ready for the FAFSA.”
  • Using the wrong parent’s income. If your parents are divorced, the FAFSA should include information from the custodial parent ONLY.

Even more things you need to know

What if you still have questions about applying for student aid? Here are some final fast facts about FAFSA and its changes. For instance, did you know you can fill out a FAFSA and have it sent to a college even if you haven’t officially applied to that college yet? It’s true! The college won’t prepare any sort of aid package until you do apply and are admitted, but if you are interested in a school, you should send them your FAFSA.

What about 529 accounts? If you still qualify as a dependent of one of your parents, then any money saved in an educational savings account is considered an asset of your parents. The FAFSA instructions offer more details about this if you have questions.

If you still feel like you need some help filling out the FAFSA, some organizations in your community may host a financial aid night to address questions. You can visit National College Access Network’s “Member Directory” to find resources in your state to help.

One major thing that has stayed the same about filling out FAFSA for student aid is that it is still FREE! For more on the FAFSA this year, check out “Get ready to apply for the FAFSA” by Alana Joli Abbott, posted October 11, 2016, here on CengageBrain.

Are you worried about any of the changes to FAFSA and how it will affect your student aid? Let us know in the comments.

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