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September 30, 2016

High school and college students applying for federal financial aid may benefit from changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

How is the application changing and what do the changes mean for students and their families?

Applications can be filed as early as Oct. 1

In the past, students had to wait until Jan. 1 to begin filling out their FAFSA applications, leaving them little room to meet state and college aid deadlines. In many cases, students had to make college application decisions before having any information about their federal financial aid eligibility.

The earlier application date means students can find out their federal aid eligibility sooner, and can take that information into consideration when choosing which schools to apply to. 

(It will still be up to individual colleges and universities to decide whether they will make earlier aid offers).

Students can use their tax information from the previous year

When filling out the FAFSA, students are required to provide financial information reported on their (or their parents’) federal tax returns. In the past, students had to estimate current tax year information starting in January, and update the information in the spring, after receiving their W-2 and other tax forms. 

FAFSA applicants can now base their answers on returns from the previous year. For example, students filling out an application for the 2017-18 academic year can use tax information from 2015. Students whose financial situation has changed can ask for an exception.

This change will also allow more students to use the I.R.S. Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically transfers tax information into the FAFSA application. The tool was introduced in 2009, but was used by only 25 percent of students because the application was due months before students or their parents filed their taxes.

On Campus intern Dina Kleiner contributed to this report. 

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