Students seeking financial help to attend college must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to attend the school of their choice. But there are some recent changes they'll need to know about that could that affect their application for aid.
Major changes to the FAFSA application for the school year running from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, include earlier availability for aid and collecting income information from an earlier tax year, according to the Department of Education.
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Federal student loans, work-study programs, and Federal Pell Grants are among the opportunities for student aid. States, colleges, and private organizations also use information on applications to determine eligibility for sources of non-federal aid.
Here are four FAFSA changes students seeking aid need to know about:
1. Available earlier — Applications can now be submitted as early as October 1, instead of January 1. The new date isn’t the deadline, but students are advised to apply as early as possible. Some aid programs are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, notes Katie Lobosco in CNN Money.
2. Income information — Financial information from federal tax returns can be based on the previous year, meaning students can use information from their 2015 federal tax returns. Called the “prior-prior year,” this will make answering questions easier for many students.
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Students must provide information from their 2015 tax forms, even if 2016 returns are beneficial because of lower income. Students, however, can notify financial aid services at a particular school about changes in their financial situations, explains Donna Rosato in Consumer Reports.
3. Annual filing — Students must file a FAFSA each year in order to qualify for financial aid. That means filing again even if a student used information from the 2015 tax return on the most recent application. Schools could change their calculations on receiving financial aid, such as family income and education costs, each year.
4. Different deadlines — Despite changes and the Department of Education encouraging schools not to change their deadline for FAFSA filing, certain colleges may have sent out aid award letters earlier or moved up deadlines for admission. Students should check with their schools of choice about deadlines. They can include the different schools they are considering or just one school, and add others later, when applying for financial aid.
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