This October brings significant changes to the process of applying for financial aid for college.  Beginning October 1st, families applying for need-based aid will complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) using data from their 2015 tax return. According to the federal student aid website (StudentAid.gov/FAFSA), families are expected to benefit from the earlier filing in a number of ways, including the obvious benefit of knowing your expected family contribution earlier in the process.  In addition:

  • Because the FAFSA will ask for older income and tax information, you will already have done and filed your taxes by the time you fill out your FAFSA, and you won’t need to estimate and then go back into the FAFSA later to update it.
  • Because you’ll have filed taxes by the time you fill out your FAFSA, you may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to automatically import your tax information into your FAFSA. (Learn more about the IRS DRT at StudentAid.gov/irsdrt.)
  • Because the FAFSA is available earlier, you will have more time to explore and understand your financial aid options and to apply for aid before your state’s and colleges’ deadlines.

This last point is especially significant.  By learning earlier about the likelihood of qualifying for need-based aid, families can make more educated decisions about college affordability.  Knowing what a particular college will cost your family will enable you to tailor your college list and insure that you are applying to colleges you will actually be able to attend.  And this earlier filing will allow students to get an early assessment from Early Decision and Early Action colleges about total cost of attendance at that institution.