Each year millions of students across the country complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known more commonly as the FAFSA. This is the application you have to complete in order for your school to figure out what kind of federal financial aid you qualify for. Some examples of federal aid include:
- Pell Grants
- Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
- Subsidized/Unsubsidized Direct Loans
- Federal Work Study
- Parent PLUS Loans
What filling out the FAFSA used to be…
In years past, the application became available January 1st of each year and used the prior year’s tax information. For example, the 2016-2017 FAFSA (covering summer 20016, fall 2016 and spring 2017) became available January 1, 2016 and used 2015 tax info.
Students have always been encouraged to file as early as possible in order to meet the school’s priority filing deadline. However, at many schools, these priority FAFSA deadlines came before tax filing deadlines for the year. This often meant students had to complete their application using estimated information if the taxes were not yet filed. Once taxes were filed, they would have to go back and update their application, sometimes forgetting that step and causing delays in getting their aid.
New changes starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA application…
The biggest change to the FAFSA is a shift to something called Prior-Prior Year. Here are the 3 major changes you need to be aware of:
- The application is available 3 months earlier! Instead of waiting until January, you can access the application October 1st each year.
- Instead of using prior year tax info, now you are going to use prior-prior. In other words, instead of using 2016 tax info for your 17-18 FAFSA, you are going to use 2015 tax data. These taxes have already been filed and it’s the same info that was used on your 2016-2017 application.
- Stony Brook University is going to start processing applications earlier. Be aware that our priority deadline is now February 15th for all students. To be considered for Work Study or SEOG, you must file by this date!
This chart helps to summarize the date changes.
Because the tax info you’re going to use is already available, we highly encourage you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) when completing your application. It reduces errors because it pulls in the tax info directly from the IRS. If you use this tool and you don’t change the imported info, it could also reduce the need to submit additional documentation to the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Services. Be aware that not all students will be able to use the DRT. Don’t stress, just pull out a copy of the 2015 tax returns and plug the numbers in according to the instructions.
With the FAFSA being available earlier, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Services is going to start next year’s processing earlier:
- Mid-November: Start loading completed FAFSA files into the system and begin notifying students of additional requirements through the SOLAR To Do list
- Mid-February: Begin awarding aid packages to new fall 2017 freshman and transfer students
- Beginning of May: Summer aid packaging begins
- Mid-June: Begin awarding aid packages to continuing students
*More info on the timeline is available here.
So what should you do?
File your 2017-2018 FAFSA today! There is additional information on applying for federal aid here if you need it. If you can’t get to it today, then get it done ASAP. You still have plenty of time before SBU’s priority filing deadline of February 15th, but time flies when you’re having fun that that date will be here before you know it.