Changes to FAFSA filing process make getting financial aid a little easier
By Rolando Rodriguez Soto
Every college student knows about the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) they have to apply for each year. This year, big changes to the FAFSA will make it easier for students moving forward.
On Sept. 14, 2015, President Obama announced starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will be able to file as early as October 1 rather than beginning on January 1. This means the FAFSA for next school year starting in fall 2017 is now open.
Don’t panic! I understand you submitted your previous FAFSA just a few months ago! You are probably thinking, “But I don’t know my 2016 tax information yet!” That’s OK. For this next FAFSA you will be using your 2015 tax information–the same tax information you used on your 2016-2017 FAFSA earlier this year.
Beginning with the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will be using their parents’ income tax information (as well as the students’ if appropriate) from the previous year, which for this upcoming FAFSA will be the 2015 tax return rather than their 2016 tax return. This means during this transitional year, students will be using the same tax information they used on their 2016-2017 FAFSA earlier this year.
“Previously the FAFSA would open in January, and you would have to use the tax return from the year that just ended, but in January, parents don’t have their W2s yet,” said Jessica McAdoo, MAC & Scholarship Coordinator for the MAC College Money Program. “So a lot of students and parents would have to put an income estimate and go back and update it before the March deadline.”
The new FAFSA availability date will make the financial aid process smoother for students. Since parents and students have already completed their 2015 tax return, it should have been already processed through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and they will no longer need to use estimates from the prior year.
With the new process, students will be able to use the Data Retrieval Tool to upload their tax information directly onto the FAFSA from the IRS. For most students this means they will no longer need to go back and update their estimated figures on their FAFSA. Since FAFSA will be sending schools tax information directly from the IRS, fewer students will need to complete the verification process.
If you are a high school senior, you may still be sending out admission applications, taking tours of campuses or making the decision of where you want to spend the next years of your education. There is no rush. Students do not need to apply for admission to a school before they list it on their FAFSA.
The priority deadline for state aid is still March 15, so be sure to complete the FAFSA process before that date. Some schools may have changed their priority deadline for FAFSA, so check with your prospective or current schools to verify their deadlines.
The Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) for non-citizens classified as Texas residents has recently announced their application is also now available to students. Similar to the FAFSA, students will also use their 2015 tax return to complete the form for fall 2017.
Your family’s financial situation may have changed since your parents submitted their 2015 tax return and you filed your previous FAFSA (if you are a returning student). You must still report the same tax information from 2015 on your FAFSA.
“If your financial information has changed you may have to file special circumstance or loss of income paperwork with your financial aid office at your school,” McAdoo said.
Federal Student Aid ID
Before students can begin the financial aid process, they will need to create a federal student aid ID (FSA ID). This form of identification replaced the PIN in spring 2015. Rather than using a four-digit number, students and parents will now create their own username and password. If you haven’t logged in to your FAFSA since May 10, 2015, you will need to create an FSA ID before you can access a federal student aid website.
FAFSA made the change to the FSA ID to increase security. The username and password is more secure than a four-digit number. The new FSA ID will also allow parents and students to retrieve forgotten passwords and log in using an email address.
Both the student and one of his or her parent will need to create an FSA ID. The student ID will be used to log in and sign the FAFSA whereas the parent ID will be only be used to sign the FAFSA.
Students and parents can create their FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov.
MAC College Money Program
All of this new information on the FAFSA may sound daunting. The MAC College Money Program, a program of Waco Foundation, is available to all students needing assistance with FAFSA, TASFA and financial aid.
“The MAC Program helps any student whether you are going to college for the first time or you are returning to college,” McAdoo said. “We fill out the FAFSA at no cost, answer questions about the whole financial aid process, and we are a resource for all students and parents.”
MAC helps 1,500 McLennan County high school graduates annual with the financial aid process. Robbie Stabeno, Director of Scholarships & the MAC Program, and Jessica McAdoo, MAC & Scholarship Coordinator, are available to assist anyone in the county who needs help completing the FAFSA.
If you need assistance, contact the office at (254) 752-9457 to make an appointment.
Rolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.
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