Important FAFSA Changes

What are the changes?

There are two significant changes to the 2017-2018 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process:

  1. The timing of when the FAFSA is available for students to complete it
  2. The tax information that is being used to complete it


Beginning in fall, students will be able to file a 2017-2018 FAFSA in October. This is instead of having to wait until January to do so. Students having the option to file the FAFSA in October will be a permanent change to the FAFSA process.

The second change pertains to the data students will submit on the FAFSA. In the past, students had used tax information from the prior year when completing the FAFSA. For example, students who completed the FAFSA for the 2016-2017 school year used tax data from their 2015 tax return.

Beginning with the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will enter income and tax information from an even earlier tax year. For the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will use tax information from two years prior to the academic year they are applying for. This means that filers will use 2015 tax data to apply for financial aid for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Below is a chart to clarify what income and tax data will be used for each academic year:

FAFSA Changes

As confusing as this may appear, the actual act of submitting the information should be fairly easy. That’s because when a student files online, most are able to use the IRS data retrieval tool. The IRS data retrieval tool allows a FAFSA filer to transfer their IRS tax return information from the IRS website directly into their FAFSA. This cuts down on the amount of time it takes to complete the application, as well as decreases room for error.

How will these changes help students? 

These changes to the FAFSA will benefit filers in several ways.

First, since students will have the option to submit their FAFSAs earlier, they are able to position themselves to receive financial aid packages sooner. If an incoming freshman is trying to decide which school to attend, receiving aid packages sooner will allow him more time to make a decision and explore options. This opens the door to better planning since students (and parents) may end up with more information, earlier.

Second, the switch to using prior-prior year data also means that FAFSA filers will no longer need to estimate the figures on their applications, only to have to update the numbers later once they file their taxes. Since filers will be using tax data from two years prior, the information they need to submit should already be available.


What do students need to know for the 2017-2018 academic year?

If you are attending school during the 2017-2018 academic year, your FAFSA filing process will be a bit different. You will be able to file the FAFSA as early as October. The 2017-2018 application will be the first FAFSA to require prior-prior year data. On this FAFSA, students will submit income tax data from 2015.

As you may have noticed, students will use income tax information from 2015 for two years in a row on their FAFSAs. Unfortunately, this does not mean that their financial aid package for two years in a row will definitely remain the same. Students will still need to submit data representing the total value of their current assets at the time they are completing the FAFSA. 

For example, if a student inherits a farm or hits the lottery in September of 2016 – even though she is submitting 2015 tax data for the second time - she will need to report her good fortune on the FAFSA.

Also, the Department of Education’s formula to determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is subject to change each year. (The EFC is used to determine need-based aid eligibility; it is calculated according to a formula established by federal law.)


Most importantly – file your FAFSA!

Remember, you won’t know what financial aid – and potentially free money – is out there for you unless you file the FAFSA. The best way to do so is to file online at the Federal Student Aid FAFSA website (fafsa.ed.gov). Be sure to file every year, and always strive to use the most accurate information you have available.

If you have questions about the FAFSA or how to complete it, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).


Additional Information

College Students and Parents: What You Need to Know About the 2017-18 FAFSA – flyer provided by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education

FAFSA Overview - video provided by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education

What's New for the 2017–18 FAFSA? Basics for Parents and College Students – PowerPoint provided by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education