FAFSA Policies Change for 2017-2018 Filing

Students will now be able to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as of Oct. 1 every year using taxes from two years prior.

Due to the passage of a policy announced by President Barack Obama in 2015, changes have been made to the FAFSA. California Lutheran University Financial Aid Counselor and Loan Coordinator Amy Landes said the two biggest differences are the date of availability and the “prior-prior year” taxes.

For the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, student aid will be based on tax information from 2015. Previously, the FAFSA became available Jan. 1 and people would have to wait until taxes from that year were completed to apply.

Since students and their families’ financials can change over the course of two years, Landes said the Cal Lutheran  financial aid office is expecting to have more special circumstances appeals. She said in a situation where a families’ financials have substantially changed, such as when a parent has become unemployed or has become divorced, students can contact their financial aid counselors and see if they qualify for a higher amount.

Emily Johnson, a sophomore with need-based loans and a scholarship, said she received an email about the FAFSA and had concerns about it being based on 2015 taxes.

“We had a change in our family and now we have somebody else living with us, so how would we be able to show that on the FAFSA?” Johnson said.

She said her family spoke to someone from the financial aid office regarding their concerns. After receiving clarity, she realized this new policy was “really a blessing.”

Brianna Gomez, a student assistant in the financial aid office with need-based federal loans, said the FAFSA is overall better for parents and students.

The White House Fact Sheet on Obama’s plan states, “Students and families will get a reliable understanding of their aid eligibility as early as the fall – the same time many high school students are searching for, applying to, and even selecting colleges.”

However, Landes said there are many assumptions that decisions will occur promptly. She said although the financial aid office will process FAFSAs earlier than in the past, and students may receive information such as document requests faster, the admissions office will not be changing the reply date. This means a students’ actual financial aid amount will not be disclosed any earlier.

“The sooner that the students can file their FAFSA, if they have missing information pieces, if they’re selected for verification, if there’s something else missing for them, we will be able to get that out to them sooner,” Landes said.

Although Landes said the changes are confusing since students may disregard notifications and think they have already completed the FAFSA not realizing it is for the upcoming year, she said the process has become faster and easier, particularly with the new IRS data retrieval tool.

The IRS data retrieval tool allows tax information to be automatically uploaded from the IRS website, rather than manually entering the information. Most students should be able to utilize this since taxes from two years prior to the upcoming school year should be available, Landes said.

Landes said that because the FAFSA is faster and easier, more students will apply and therefore be able to receive more financial aid to cover their expenses.

An email was distributed by the financial aid office Sept. 27 notifying students that the FAFSA had changed, and another was sent Oct. 3 saying it is open for completion.

Landes said the financial aid office is also posting on Facebook and their website, placing stickers on food at Ullman-To-Go and the Centrum Café, putting up flyers and creating an event on the Hub student events calendar to raise awareness of the changes.

The financial aid office is also working on a new online financial literacy program. Landes said this would include a portal on the financial aid office website giving assistance on the process of applying for aid. A timeline for the completion and implementation of this program is still in progress.

Students can file the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov at any time starting Oct. 1. The deadline to submit for the 2017-2018 school year is June 30, 2017.

Dakota Allen
Staff Writer