Change to Early FAFSA Brings Earlier and Easier Fin Aid

September 13, 2015

Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

The President just announced a BIG win for college access – the FAFSA form will now use prior prior year tax information. NCAN has advocated for this change for several years, and NCAN members should be excited about their important role in this important step forward in college access for our students. Once the new system is in place, students will be able to use already filed tax information to complete the FAFSA form. This provides several benefits to students including knowing how much federal student aid they will receive, having more time to decide where to apply to college, and being able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool without a delay.

The new Early FAFSA will start on October 1, 2016. That means the 2016 calendar year will have TWO FAFSA filing cycles – one in January of 2016 for the 2016-2017 academic year (current high school seniors) and one in October of 2016 for the 2017-2018 academic year (current high school juniors). While transition usually comes with hiccups, NCAN will be here to guide our members through these changes that will ultimately benefit students.

Completing the FAFSA in October will give students access to their SAR (student aid report) with their EFC and Pell Grant eligibility before he or she applies to college rather than after. This switch in the current timetable will allow students to be more knowledgeable about their financial position, and they can use this information when deciding where to apply to school. With the extra time between the FAFSA filing and the college application deadlines, students can do additional research on schools that may fit their financial situation. 

Dalia Wimberly, Director of Program Administration for NCAN member the Emily K Center calls PPY a "game changer for students." See what Dalia and other members and students are saying about this change to FAFSA.

Filing the FAFSA in the fall, using the tax information already completed in April, also means that students will be able to immediately use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). Currently, students can only import their tax information from the IRS DRT if their taxes (or their parents) have been complete for more than two weeks. In the current system, this puts a strain on families to complete their taxes at least two weeks before early financial aid deadlines, many of which are March 1. Depending on when tax forms are received, this is virtual impossible for many families. Using the prior-prior year tax information and filing in the fall will allow families to complete their taxes by the April 15 deadline and have that data ready to go for retrieval in the fall.

FAFSA completion is one piece of many in the puzzle that is applying for college. Moving the FAFSA forward in the timeline is a huge advantage for students, as long as states and institutions do not drastically change their behavior. The benefit to students assumes that selective schools will keep their January application deadlines and that states will not move their financial aid priority deadlines even soon. It also requires states and institutions to use prior prior year for their aid distribution as well. As advocates for students, we must remain vigilant that states and institutions act in the best interest of students and keep their current timelines and use the PPY tax information for their own processes. If they do not, then this big win for students could have several unintended consequences, which decrease this benefit to students. 

More information will be available at the following links at 7am EDT on Monday, September 14, 2015.

 Pres. @BarackObama makes #FAFSA change for earlier, easier #FinAid using prior-prior year income #PPYNot #FallFAFSA

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