Consider the poor old FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): for decades it’s been a reviled part of the student financial aid process. People complain about its length. They complain about the level of details it requires. One of the biggest gripes has been the timing: many colleges require submitting the FAFSA in January with inclusion of tax details from the just-ended year. It’s a real scramble for families to file their taxes before many of the forms and elements are even in hand. And that’s before they work through the FAFSA itself.
However, starting in the fall of 2016 two key things have changed for the better. First, families can use the so-called “prior, prior” year’s taxes when completing the FAFSA. And second, families can file the FAFSA starting on October 1st of the year prior to entering college. That means that beginning on October 1, 2017 families have been able to file the FAFSA for the 2018-19 academic year using tax details from 2016.
While the FAFSA itself is still a cumbersome questionnaire, at least the process doesn’t present as much of a logistical squeeze.
Note that colleges have different deadlines and windows during which they will accept their financial aid forms. Make sure to check with your financial aid office for your particular deadlines.