Headache-saving changes are coming
Changes are coming to the financial aid process that will make it easier to apply for help and plan ahead for college.
Beginning October 1, 2016, students will be able to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2017-18 year. This pushes the application date up by several months from the current January 1 opening date. Students will also be able to use tax information from two years earlier.
Why is this important?
Filling out a FAFSA is the first step in getting federal money, including Pell Grants, student loans, and a work-study job at your college. The information on your FAFSA is also used by colleges, state governments, and others to determine if you qualify for some other types of financial aid or scholarships.
Nearly 20 million FAFSA filers get access to federal grants and loans each year – the vast majority of American college students. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
The biggest mistake you can make with federal aid is assuming you don’t qualify, so even if you don’t think you’ll be eligible, you should apply.
Many students qualify for the Pell Grant, which is money that you do not have to pay back. Students can also access loans, which do have to be repaid, at lower interest rates than many private lenders offer.
According to education advising site Edvisors.com, two million students who would have qualified for the Pell Grant in the 2011-12 school year missed out because they didn’t fill out a FAFSA.
More time to weigh options
By applying in October instead of January, students will find out earlier if they are eligible for aid, giving them time to consider college costs and weigh their options for multiple schools.
The convenience of using so-called “prior-prior-year” tax data also makes it easier for students to get college applications in before many scholarship deadlines, which are frequently set in January and February.
This widened window of time will enable families to determine the true costs of going to school once financial aid is factored in.
The changes simplify the FAFSA a great deal. Students who apply early won’t have to update their applications with new income information, cutting down the often rigorous federal verification process.
The FAFSA is far less of a headache than it used to be. Once upon a time (not so long ago), filing for financial aid involved a 10-page workbook and poring over your family’s paper documents. Today, less than one-half of one percent of applicants fill out the paper version.
Now an online form at fafsa.ed.gov, many of the application’s 108 questions are auto-populated using data already on-file with the government through the IRS.
According to the Education Department, this has cut the filing time down to about 20 minutes
How to apply
Complete a FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov.
After filing, you will be sent a report on your eligibility for the Pell Grant and the amount you can expect to receive.
If you are seeking a loan, fill out a Federal Direct Loan application along with your FAFSA: studentloans.gov
Questions? Consult Saddleback’s financial aid experts for advice: