Students were able to file their 2017-2018 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1 this year instead of Jan.1, 2017.
The government is asking students and parents nationwide to submit tax information starting with 2015 this year to make the filing process easier.
According to the U.S. Office of Federal Student Aid website, the changes are meant to ease the filing process in three ways — there should be less pressure because students have more time to explore their financial aid options and apply before the necessary deadlines, filers won’t have to estimate as much because the taxes required to complete the process should be on file and filers will be able to retrieve their older tax information and link it to the IRS using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
Kathy Elsea, Financial Aid director at Truman State University, says she thinks the changes should eventually give filers more breathing room.
“The parents should have the tax return information already done, so it should cut down on that stress,” Elsea says.
Elsea says prospective and returning students will have more time to apply and consider their financial aid packages after their applications are processed, relieving some of the stress.
Elsea cautions studentsthat they won’t receive aid offers sooner even though they can apply earlier.
“For our students who are already here, our upper class students, we won’t get the award notifications out much earlier,” Elsea says. “We definitely have to wait until fall grades are posted and do our best estimate whether students will have scholarship or no eligibility.”
Elsea says parents have used estimated income levels in the past when the right documentation isn’t available because their tax returns aren’t yet on file.
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool can eliminate the guesswork by allowing filers to link already filed tax returns to the IRS filling out the respective boxes on the FAFSA.
Elsea says the tool is beneficial because it decreases the chance of finding errors in the verification process. Families will still have to recover their 2015 returns when they file, as they won’t automatically carry over into the new year.
Even though these changes are designed to ease the process in the long run, Elsea says the Truman Financial Aid Office will take about a year to adjust to the changes.
“This transition year is going to be challenging,” Elsea says. “After that, looking ahead to 2018-2019, then it definitely should cut down on verifications.”
For a smoother transition, Elsea says students should be aware of the changes and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. The Financial Aid Office has tried to generate publicity using Truman Today, emails are sent to students and postcards sent to students’ current or home addresses so parents could also be notified.
Elsea says the filing process doesn’t end after submitting it. Students should scan for errors like added digits or any other mistake.
“I strongly encourage them to take a minute or two to go back through and look at it because errors can cost students money,” Elsea says.