It may seem strange to be talking about another FAFSA in September already, but there has been a big change in the college financial aid application deadline. The FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year will be online beginning October 1, 2016. There are still some unknowns about how this process will shake out, but there may be a rush to file by students seeking early admission or early decision admissions.
Since there are a number of programs where funding is available on a first-come, first-served basis, it might be wise for students who are submitting regular application admissions to consider filing a FAFSA in October, even if they have not yet settled on a particular college. Here is the information to start gathering now for those who plan on completing their FAFSA in October:
• 2015 tax return: Most applicants should already have their 2015 tax returns completed, so this point is moot for most. But if you needed to file an extension and have not yet completed the process, try to do so immediately. This will allow you to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) when completing your FAFSA financial information. If you are unable to submit your final tax return yet, you can still start working on the FAFSA in October. You will need to estimate your income information, and then you will need to go back and update it once your return is finalized.
• FSA ID: Don’t wait until the last minute to complete this preliminary step either. The FSA ID is a more secure form of obtaining access to your federal student aid information online. It is your electronic passport consisting of a username, password and answers to security questions, and can be used to sign your online FAFSA.
• Determine student’s dependency: A student’s dependency status affects the amount of financial aid he or she is eligible to receive. While it is usually obvious whether a student is considered dependent or independent, there are some cases where it may be questionable. The FAFSA contains questions that help determine dependency status, but they can also be reviewed online prior to beginning.
• Who is your parent? This also sounds obvious, but the question has become much more convoluted in today’s mixed households. FSA has specific rules which must be followed to report parent information.
Once you have settled those questions, start gathering documentation on social security and Alien Registration numbers, investment and savings accounts, untaxed income, and business or farm income so you will be ready to roll on October 1.
Get more information on the FAFSA in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro. It reviews the entire financial aid process and shows how it dovetails with the college application timeline, talks about good money habits to instill in children as they are growing up, and educates readers on using debt wisely. Order it now, and start getting your student ready to apply to college and find financial aid.