Parents familiar with the federal financial aid process know that Jan. 1 has historically been the first day to file Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submissions. But thanks to changes announced last year, millions of incoming college students will now be able to file starting Oct. 1 instead. In addition to the earlier filing time frame, applicants will be required to report income from an earlier tax year.
According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the new time frame is better aligned with the college application process and reduces the need to estimate income information.
|When a student is attending college (school year)||When a student can submit a FAFSA||Income and tax year information required|
|Previous process||July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017||Jan. 1, 2016–June 30, 2017||2015|
|New process||July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018||Oct. 1, 2016–June 30, 2018||2015|
|July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019||Oct. 1, 2017–June 30, 2019||2016|
Federal student aid can be used to attend an eligible college or career school. It includes federal Pell Grants, federal student loans and work-study opportunities. The FAFSA form is also used to apply for state and college-sponsored aid. To find your state’s application deadline, refer to the FAFSA website. Filing deadlines also vary for colleges and universities, so it’s important to confirm the date with the school’s financial aid office. Keep in mind that funding is often first-come, first-served—so apply early!
How to apply
As the application name states, the form is free on the DOE website. However, if you do a Web search for “FAFSA,” you may find many sites that can help process the form—but often for a fee. The form may appear complicated, but there are free services that can help guide you through the process. These are typically promoted through high school counseling offices and college admissions offices.
The DOE also provides free information so students can learn about the process before applying:
- Details about the types of federal student loans and the differences between federal private student loans.
- Tips and frequently asked questions in the brochure Funding Your Education.
Plan ahead, borrow less
With college costs continuing to rise, students are increasingly turning to loans to help fund their education. Costs for an in-state, public four-year college averaged nearly $20,000 for 2015-2016, according to the College Board. For a private college, it was more than double that amount.
The problem with loans is that the resulting debt could burden a student’s financial prospects as they enter the job market. The good news? Parents can take action now to help students graduate with as little debt as possible. Investing now—along with careful planning—can help make a difference, even for parents of older children.
Learn more about you can invest in your child’s future and explore our college investing options.