Many students who apply to college will also need to apply for financial aid. For those students attending college in the fall of 2017, the Free Application to Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available on October 1, 2016. But there are some things you should do before you fill out that application.
First, the student, and at least one parent, need to create an FSA ID. This is a username and password that you will use to electronically sign your FAFSA. (The federal government used to use a PIN but now uses the FSA ID.) Adam H. Blumenthal has created an excellent video on how to create your FSA ID: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ_A1eHJKec
Once you’ve created your FSA ID and it is October 1 or later, you can log into fafsa.ed.gov. Don’t be fooled by some websites that ask for a payment. It is FREE to apply for federal student aid. There are some scam websites out there so beware and make sure you’re on the right website.
IRS Data Retrieval Tool
For the past few years, the FAFSA has allowed applicants and their parents to link their tax returns to the FAFSA through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. While it’s not mandatory to use it, it does make life a lot easier for you and for the colleges. According to the Department of Education using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will make it less likely that you will be selected for verification. Being selected for verification just means that you will likely need to send more information to the colleges regarding your financial situation.
The good thing about the new date for the FAFSA is that you get to use the tax return that most people have already filed in April. So, for students attending college in the fall of 2017, they can fill out the FAFSA in October 2016 using 2015 tax information. This will make it easier for parents. (In the past, parents and students filled out the forms in January and then had to amend their FAFSA once their taxes were processed. That made for a lot of angst and headache.)
Some Unanswered Questions
Because filing in October is new this year, there are some questions that remain unanswered. Will colleges have an earlier deadline for financial aid? Will students get a financial aid award letter earlier? What happens if your financial situation has changed drastically since you filed your 2015 taxes? (In that case, call the financial aid offices of the schools to which your student is applying and explain what’s going on.)
Overall, I think this is a great change that will make the process easier for families. And that’s always a good thing.