Changes to Federal College Financial Aid Application Process

Changes to Federal Colleg…

Prospective college students and their parents should be aware of recent changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the form used to award all federal college financial aid as well as the vast majority of financial awards from the colleges themselves. The Office of Federal Student Aid has traditionally considered parental income information, as submitted on federal tax forms, from the year immediately prior to the year in which the student sought aid. Both applicants and officials found this practice to be problematic, however, because taxable income information for the prior year is often not available until the spring of the college entry year.

For example, students going to college in the fall of 2015 required taxable income information from 2014, which wasn’t due to the IRS until April of 2015. Waiting on complete information caused a significant number of applicants to submit their applications in the late spring and early summer. The large number of applications being filed only a few months before the start of the school year left the Office of Federal Student Aid pressed to process all of the applications in a timely manner, and it left prospective students worrying about whether they would be able to afford to attend the college of their choice.

As a result, changes to both the filing date on which applications are due and the tax year for reporting have been made in the hope that the process for applying for financial aid will be improved. Beginning with 2017 college applicants (today’s high school juniors), the FAFSA will be accepted as early as Oct. 1 of the year prior to entering college, and students will report income information from the “prior prior” year to entering college. In other words, parental income from two years prior to the college entrance will be used as a basis for granting aid and financial awards.

Parents of current college juniors should take particular note of this change, because it means that this year’s income information will be used as the basis for any college financial aid requests made by their student, rather than next. Parents of current high school juniors may want to consider any available tax planning adjustments for the current tax year.

The following table shows the revised application requirements for all current high school students:

Year Student Will Attend College: FAFSA Submitted: Income Year:
July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017
(current HS Seniors)
1/1/2016 – 6/30/2017 2015
July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018
(current HS Juniors)
10/1/2016 – 6/30/2018 2015
July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019
(current HS Sophomores)
10/1/2017 – 6/30/ 2019 2016
July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020
(current HS Freshmen)
10/1/2018 – 6/30/2020 2017

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