How Schools can Prepare for Early FAFSA

By Leonard Gude

Starting in October, students will now be able to accurately complete their 2017-18 FAFSAs right away rather than waiting until the end of the year and/or until they file their taxes for the year. In the past, students and/or their parents may have not filed their taxes (due in April) prior to filling out their FAFSAs (beginning in January) of each year. Thus, they have had to estimate the income that they reported on the FAFSA rather than use actual income information.

Students will now be able to complete their 2017-18 FAFSAs beginning in October 2016 which is three months earlier than in previous years. When they do so, the students/parents will report their actual 2015 (prior-prior year) income information on the 2017-18 FAFSA rather than their sometimes estimated 2016 year income. This change can help students and parents file earlier and prevent issues with families that have filed for extensions. Additionally, the increased the use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool has the added potential benefit of reducing the likelihood of being selected for verification.

However, because students/parents will be reporting the same 2015 income information on the 2017-18 FAFSA that they used on their 2016-17 FAFSA, there is a significant chance that there may be a conflict in the reported information which the school will need to resolve during this transition year. Schools could also anticipate receiving an increase in professional judgment requests as a result of using more dated income in the application process.

In preparation, financial aid offices should review their financial aid processing procedures and timeline, update their student communications, and discuss the change with their admissions office as to the impact on the school’s admission cycle.

Regent Award will fully support the importing of 2017-18 ISIRs and the awarding of students based upon this information in October 2016.  Regent will also assist schools in identifying students with conflicting income information during this transition year between their 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 FAFSAs.