FAFSA Changes and What They Mean for You

Tyson Schritter

So you’ve already started exploring colleges and financial avenues for funding your continuing education – excellent! But what exactly is FAFSA, and how do the new rules and dates affect you?

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” and should you qualify, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides grants, loans, and work-study funds. Each year, FSA gives $150 billion to support aspiring college students and help them achieve their degrees. You definitely don’t want to miss out on these funds.

So What Are These New Changes?

New Registration Dates: Prior to this year, students would need to wait until January to fill out their FAFSA applications. Now, students can apply for federal funds as early as October 1st, 2019 for the 2020-2021 school year. The registration date has permanently shifted, so each year students can begin applications in October.

Earlier Tax Information: Students and parents are now required to provide earlier tax records, providing the FSA with a more accurate financial picture of each student. For example, if you are applying this year for 2020-2021 school year, you would provide your 2018 tax records. This means you won’t have to estimate what your taxes will be for 2019, nor will you need to update your FAFSA application to reflect your changed tax information should your estimation be incorrect.

Remember, because FAFSA requires tax information from the year prior, students and parents can use an easy IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically port tax information into the FAFSA application. This IRS tool decreases the chance that you will be subjected to verification, meaning you’re less likely to get bogged down in administrative issues with your FAFSA application.

If your family income has changed drastically since 2018, meaning your 2018 tax records do not reflect your current financial situation, you may ask your desired college for a financial review.

Potential New Financial Aid Dates:  Because you can submit your FAFSA application earlier, some states and schools have shifted their deadlines to reflect this change. For schools that offer early applications and early financial aid packages, their financial aid application dates could change to “as soon as possible after Oct. 1” as opposed to the current mid-December/January 1st dates. This means you could have more time to choose the right school for you, after knowing the financial aid packages each college is offering. It is important to research each school to know when their financial offers are made, so you can apply as early as needed.