FAFSA Changes Allow Students to File Earlier

Samantha Midkiff, Reporter

Students have more time to file the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, thanks to federal law.

President Obama made changes in 2016 to filing FAFSA forms. Changes include expanded application dates and the tax information that is required. The changes allow students and parents a longer time period to apply for student aid than in the past. Students can now submit applications October 1. June 30 is the final day.

“The application for federal student aid is available now,” said Donna Cerza, the new Director of Admissions.

Although students have more time to submit, it is best to get in applications as early as possible, Cerza said.

The FAFSA application is used not only for federal aid, but also for aid from the  state. States have grants that people can receive when they turn in their FAFSA forms.

In Pennsylvania, residents who qualify for aid must submit applications by May 1. Those who wait until June 30 may not receive state help in paying for school.

“That’s why I said if it’s early, [and] it’s available early, file early,” said Cerza.

Time runs out quickly and money runs out, too, Cerza said.

To fill out the FAFSA, students must enter parents’ taxes, if the student is dependent, or their own tax returns if they are independent to determine the amount of funding they will receive.

In the past, the FAFSA required tax returns from the previous year. Families trying to submit their federal taxes in April and FAFSA applications in May was causing a problem, so people can now use taxes from the previous year and file earlier.

“That information is readily available, so there’s no reason not file the FAFSA,” said Cerza.

Concerns may arise from the use of taxes from the previous year, however, because changes in household income may impact the amount of school funding a student may qualify for. It is the student’s or parent’s responsibility to notify the aid office and work with them to make the changes.

Major changes that may impact aid amounts include changes to family adjusted gross income, lottery winnings, new medical expenses, and changes in household size.

By submitting FAFSA forms as early as possible, students and families have more time to sit down with the financial aid office to talk about any changes to family income or expenses. Cerza said students can take new information to the financial aid office throughout the year for help in reporting.

The FAFSA form can be confusing: While anyone under the age of 24 is considered dependent, and therefore must include parents’ income on the application, the form requires applicants to answer a series of questions about dependency status.

“For federal financial aid, it doesn’t matter if you live with your parents, you have to be age 24 for the Department of Education to consider you an independent student for financial aid purposes,” said Cerza.

Students can, however, be considered independent under the age of 24 if they are married or able to support themselves and any dependents they might have.

Married students will need to provide their spouses’ information, however.

Other questions include whether the student was in foster care, has legal guardianship, or lost both parents. The student will need to provide documents as proof in these and other cases.